a deep sadness

Change is the only constant. I thought I had accepted those words long ago. I thought I had accepted that my life here in Washington, D.C. was only fleeting, and that whatever would happen here, I’d move on soon. However, the deep sadness I’m experiencing says otherwise.

I’m continuing onto my second year in D.C., while my roommate is around for a few more weeks before carting off to graduate school in South Korea for the next three years. I am very proud of her and her journey, and I know her spontaneity, optimism, and common sense will continue to serve her well. Strange compliments, perhaps, but those are things that I lack, and thus precisely the things I admire in her.

We met in high school and were roommates for a brief summer before our senior year. Even then, she was an amazing roommate and we quickly became best friends. Somewhat eerily, since living together, we have started to think and say the same things– at the same time. I already miss our daily interactions, however small, and our serious conversations on topics ranging from education to manga tropes. Yet, I instinctively know that this is not all there is to this sadness; I still have not cried; still waters run deep, they say.

I suppose to some my strongest point is my tireless drive and ambition, but in these times, I find it crippling. I’m always thinking about my career path, I’m scared how I stack up to my high-performing peers, both from school and work. More than anything, I fear being left behind, someone my parents can’t be proud of. Everything I do needs to be perfect, prestigious, and promising of a better tomorrow. I want to be the orthodox paragon.

I feel guilt having these (irrational) thoughts– objectively, I am a well-rounded, financially stable, and contributing member of society. Yet, I can always see the next rung of the ladder I need to grasp, deftly traversed by many of my peers– including my roommate– and I feel despair. Forever stuck on the bottom rung, forever following others in a lesser capacity.

I cannot shake this feeling of doom. I cannot shake this feeling of despair because I know I will have to return to the vicious circle. I will be again living with the struggle and despondency, just as I felt when I applied to college, when I began looking for a full-time job after college graduation. I know I’m not ready, but I cannot fully understand that I’ll never be ready.

The clock, it runs on.

[review] SHINee’s Your Number

Overall, I was not thrilled with this release. Two more cutesy-mildly-catchy songs.. which SHINee doesn’t already have enough of. The amount of sarcasm in this post: high.

your num

Your Number

This sounds like a younger-brother cast-off from a TVXQ album, brassy and smooth with those finger snaps and clapping in the background. This kind of song straddles the border between fun-and-hip and old-and-corny, and guess where SHINee lands. No one shines in this song; it’s enough that they are all non-offensive, though Minho skirts the line with his over-emphasized rap. I’ve come to realize recently that Minho has quite little flow, no natural sense of where to put the accents.

While the choreography is likewise smooth, it is not memorable. The storyline the music video follows has SHINee all following one (Caucasian) girl– something we all haven’t seen before, so incredibly novel I can’t fight back the tears. SHINee is truly a beacon of innovation within the glorious space of Korean pop and Japanese pop.

LOVE

Marginally better than Your NumberLOVE adds to SHINee’s repertoire of “feel-good” songs designed to make fans feel happy about themselves. So, why should I be complaining? I mean, can SHINee really do anything wrong? I’ll go out on a limb and conjecture no.

[review] Jonghyun’s BASE

For those who were excited for a review-in-haiku, I decided I’ll review-in-haiku SHINee’s latest concert album instead. Haikus actually require condensation of thought, whereas the word vomit I have for Jonghyun flows nonstop.

I followed Jonghyun obsessively throughout the whole promotion process, and I was struck by how much thought and involvement he seemed to have with his album, and indeed, this album is not in the usual pop-(music-)and-lock style of SM. It is very much colored by Jonghyun and his more droopy R&B groove, his collaborations with his friends, his own lyrics for every song. BASE allowed Jonghyun to more fully explore a slower, low-key genre, something that isn’t always possible in SHINee, which focuses mostly on mainstream dancepop. While not overwhelmingly popular, this album was a success in the sense that BASE was coherent, having a particular style and flavor of its own.

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1. Deja-Boo (ft. Zion) 

Non-threatening, a slyly fun kind of a dance that I’d like to hear in a low-key bar: enough to get people dancing but not enough to make people rave and go out of control. Jonghyun also continues to make use of his whisper-singing in his lower register, which makes for a flirtatious feel– definitely a pre-release single ahead of the main promoted single.

Zion’s cameo does add character to the song, as Jonghyun is a natural crooner. I’ve remarked before in another review that Jonghyun couldn’t rap himself because his voice is rounded and not sharp enough to enunciate– it took me a while to realize that Jonghyun was actually rapping in this song. Thus, Zion T’s raw-er voice provides a good foil to Jonghyun.

Overall, while Deja-Boo is not a “bad” song, it seems to be missing something. It seems to be too level, too relaxed. Perhaps I have been listening to too much Jonghyun wailing out bridges on SHINee songs 24/7.

2. Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)

I must say this every time, but it amazes me to no end how Jonghyun is able to project such emotion. Subtle elisions that recall seduction, a soft yet strong falsetto that breathe frustration. He has such control, able to punctuate the downbeats when he wants to, and when he doesn’t, creates a sense of suspension. When compared to other SHINee songs, Jonghyun actually does not do as much vocal gymnastics in Crazy, nonetheless Jonghyun is rather spellbinding. I suspect it is because he is now able to shape and control the line of the song from beginning to end.

3. Hallelujah

Quite possibly the best three syllables in the entire album: “Hallelujah.” The first verse and chorus drags– it’s the way he chooses to stretch out certain syllables and leave some silence in between lines. From a technical point of view, I wouldn’t like to have such slow buildup if “Hallelujah” in the chorus is going to be as slow; the second verse is much better in this respect and Jonghyun puts more breath into singing. Nonetheless, as I am writing this, it is probably very intentional on Jonghyun’s part to have a consistent ramp-up to the bridge and the end of the song, a la the peak of religious frenzy.

So, where do I sign up for the Church of Jonghyun?

4. Love Belt (ft. Younha) 

I know I’ve been saying pretty great things about Jonghyun, but let me tell you, I’m rather apathetic for all of the next songs. If not sung by Jonghyun, most likely I would have passed over it like any INFINITE album.

In Love Belt, Jonghyun whispers for the entire song, and is paired with a whispering Younha. I feel listless. Yawn, next. Of course, I see how this fits into Jonghyun’s narrative of BASE as an album: it’s the anemic sibling to its more up-tempo lead singles. Next.

5. NEON

Neon is a more fun and lighthearted version of Deja-Boo, and is another showcase for his beautiful falsetto. However, his not-so-beautiful nasal high voice is heard briefly at the end of the chorus, clawing out “NEON NEON NEON”. Perhaps this is what people point to when they say Jonghyun’s voice has changed after the car accident; yet Jonghyun has been perfectly able to sing in that register without that nasal sound, see: Crazy.

6. MONO-Drama

This is a more of ballad, given the choice of instrumentation, which also recalls early SHINee. There are beautiful moments during the verses as his voice becomes openly warm and broad, but when the excess instrumentation and voice layering comes into play (especially towards the end of the song), it sounds messy, like a sound engineer who couldn’t keep their hands off the mastering software.

7. Beautiful Tonight

While this again, does fit into Jonghyun’s narrative, it is more typical “kpop ballad” in its choice of instrumentation and quirkily bright feeling. If B1A4 or Boyfriend were vocally up to par, I could come to expect this on one of their albums. This could also easily belong on a SHINee album.

Despite being slow, unlike Love Belt, Jonghyun does not fall back on sing-talking and manages to mix it up with his voice, slightly gravelly, then smooth, then a bit of falsetto. Beautiful Tonight showcases Jonghyun’s technical ability to micro-manage his timbre. On a related note, this is what I would say still separates Jonghyun and Taemin. Taemin’s next hurdle is thinking of the entire melody line, not just the lyric line he happens to be saying at the time. Taemin has his tools; he must sharpen and refine.

8. Fortune Cookie

Let’s pretend this doesn’t even exist. There is a reason this was only a bonus track.

Performances

KBS MUSIC BANK 20150213: Deja-Boo

Jonghyun seems tired as his live voice does not have the punch it usually does, though his performance is good. Oh, Zion T and his sunglasses. I always think to myself, is it to hide the fact that he’s stoned all the time?

KBS MUSIC BANK 20150206: Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)

His falsetto is noticeably off-key in the beginning 30 seconds, and during the first chorus. He is also cutting off the end of his lines towards the end of the performance. The band is clearly not live, which is disappointing. If you’ve ever watched CNBlue perform on music shows– that’s what it sounds like to have a live band.

KBS MUSIC BANK 20150116: Deja-Boo

A fresh-faced performance, although a bit too soft in the beginning. The second verse is uncharacteristically nasal (as compared to the recording).

KBS MUSIC BANK 20150116: Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)

An orthodox performance; he nails every note but feels over-rehearsed. I know I’ve seen better performances of Deja-Boo and Crazy, but SM has only uploaded these live performances, unfortunately.

Wrap-up

So, what about Onew? Actually, scratch that. I want a hardcore SHINee dance comeback (preferably before I become a hardcore Xiumin fan). Taemin, Jonghyun, thanks for the great warm-up acts.

Michelle reacts to Jonghyun’s “Crazy”! // update: will be removed Jan. 16, 10PM EST

Bit of an advance review. It’s unlisted for now, but it’s totally possible that I remove it (I don’t like my face out there so much), so I’d watch as soon as you are able. If you like it, and want to see more, let me know. It was fun doing this video, and if there’s demand, I would definitely consider scaling up the quality. Thanks for watching!

[quick review] Taemin & Key’s excellent performances on Sketchbook

Woops, I was supposed to be doing economics research but then I ended up watching SHINee on Sketchbook. Since Jonghyun’s getting a solo debut this January 2015, I hope he’s been booked for Sketchbook as well.

Taemin

I definitely don’t give Taemin enough credit for growing so much in the past few years. While I’m not in love with this performance of Danger (weak as always because his low register is not comfortable for him at all and he mumbles instead of singing sometimes), his rendition of Experience and Replay are the best I’ve heard him, and could have been even better if Taemin gave up the cheesy dancing during Replay. When he sings Jonghyun’s vocalizations, there are some periods of uncomfortable tightness, but mostly it’s smooth and doesn’t feel so forced as it usually does. Like Replay, Taemin still has several periods of rigidity when singing in the progressively higher parts.

Huge shout-out to the guitarist supporting him both– especially for Experience— I would attribute a lot of the great flavor of Taemin’s performance to him and the other instrumentalists. Live bands make a big difference, which is why Sketchbook and Muzit performances are always a step-up from the average music show performance.

Watch Replay at 17m16s, and Experience at 23m45s.

Key

Key sings an older song, A Story of a Couple in Their 60s, placed in a lower range than SHINee normally sings– even for Onew. His rendition is excellent, especially when considering his broad lower range, which reverberates and projects. Like Taemin, his voice becomes stretched and too throaty when he reaches higher, but his lower parts are simply glowing. Easily the best I’ve ever heard Key.

Watch A Story of a Couple in Their 60s at 8m22s.

Bonus! Some thoughts on SHINee

Not the best Dream Girl performance from SHINee, though the live band is amazing. Seriously, I’d listen to this again and again just for the badass live band in the background. All of them are sounding strained, especially Taemin and a little for Onew, Jonghyun is way too nasal, Minho’s singing is surprisingly all right– he fudged the rap part big time, though.

The live band, though! A+! Instrumentalists are the best, after all.

There’s no live band in the Sherlock performance, sadly. Largely the same verdict as before, though Jonghyun mellows out in this performance and has a broader voice. SHINee is too shouty in both these performances.

top 15 kpop / jpop tracks of 2014

As is my custom, I have compiled a list based on my last.fm statistics: my most played kpop / jpop songs of 2014.

1. Overdose, EXO-M / EXO-K

The first by over 300 plays; definitely a track in which SM shows what it’s the best at doing. Simple, clean visually-oriented music videos with a non-offensive, catchy dance track. I discussed it briefly hereContinue reading

[review] SHINee’s “I’m Your Boy”

downtown

1. Downtown Baby 

This single can be seen as a follow-up to Lucky Star and Dazzling Girl, endearingly pop and catchy but not a particularly creative or more-than-ephemeral song. The vocals are all stylistically more consistent, warm, broad, and light– even Minho. Jonghyun in particular sounds more mild than usual, a tone he usually reserves for ballads and not for upbeat singles like Downtown Baby.

There’s nothing much to complain about this single, nor is there much to especially like.  Continue reading