brief thoughts on EXO’luxion in Newark, NJ

Surprise! Michelle isn’t dead as a kpop fan. To the contrary, she spent $80 on a ticket to see EXO on February 21, 2016 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Worth it? Yes. Bone-tired? Yes. Going to make a random bulleted list because I can’t be bothered to write a coherent article? Yes.

(May be updated as I think of more things. Feel free to ask questions.)

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  1. Michelle-Patricia shippers alert: I did go with Patricia. I feel sorry for the teenagers around us having to listen to our sarcastic sniping and a lot of my ironic laughter.
  2. Never have I felt so strongly that Chen is my husbando.
  3. The songs were all sung in Korean, which was irritating, because especially in their earlier songs, Baekhyun gets all the (high) parts that Chen would normally sing in Chinese. So while Chen did feature quite prominently in the concert, would frequently be at the front of the dance formations, he actually didn’t sing as much as I’m accustomed to hearing.
  4. The production quality of the video interludes was pretty fantastic. There was this one interlude that showed them dancing to dubstep which accented their “abstract” dance moves with geometric shapes. As someone who loves that sort of geometric nonsense, it was quite cool.
  5. Chanyeol talks a lot and tends to go on (and on). He was also obsessed with throwing the confetti around and you could tell some of the members weren’t having it. Suho and Chanyeol seem to know the most English (they spoke the most in English), but it wasn’t really much beyond the standard “What’s up New York?” We’re in New Jersey. “Are you ready?” Rabid fangirl screams all around. There was a translator, and from what Patricia told me, was not that good, more like a random person on the SM team who spoke English the best.
  6. Chen had this really terrible compliment at the end, “You are all beautiful like skyscrapers.” Yeah, totally my husbando- someone who mangles praise but smiles and then you know the world is somewhat not evil.
  7. Upon reflection, I realize that the EXO show isn’t actually that fancy. There’s the lights, standard confetti, some props (piano, a stage on top of the stage, a few chairs, “changing room”), but it’s quite minimal of a production. It’s more about the band members, really, rather the whole set taken together.
  8. It was really hard to hear the singing- even when they were lip-synching, the voices were hard to make out. It quieted down some during the last few ballads but the crowd was extremely noisy.
  9. Girls screaming at the crotch grabs during Call Me Baby. #always
  10. FYI. EXO’lution doesn’t allow backpacks- even small ones. I think it’s safe to assume this for all SM concerts in the future.
  11. Chen had the best high note. Not that he’s my bias, or anything.
  12. Kai is ridiculous at dancing. Even from so far up, you could still tell how sharp his movements were. Sorry, Sehun. There’s a reason why you’re in the back. It was actually sort of funny to see the comparatively more sloppy choreography for things like Playboy which they don’t do as often as contrasted with things like Growl which they know so well.
  13. I would actually pay good money to hear EXO in a smaller, more intimate space. DO and Chen are some of my favorite singers in the kpop industry right now, and it’s a shame to hear fans screaming over their lines (I love Chen too, all right? But think of him seriously as a singer first).
  14. One of the video interludes ambiguously/tangentially mentioned the leaving of the three EXO members. Surprisingly, despite my salty self, I found it touching and was ready to wave money at EXO’s souvenir stands. The video said cheesy things like, “We are grateful to receive your love- we won’t rest until we’ve returned all your love to you.” Then the end of the concert dragged on for another 45 minutes, and I wasn’t ready to wave my money away so much after that.

[review] Jonghyun’s The Collection “Story Op.1”

2015 has been a big year for solo Jonghyun– he recently gave an interview, in which he said that if he were not a singer, he would be a composer. Jonghyun, you’re already a composer, and actually, not a bad one. Some (Michelle) would say, even a good composer.

1/ End of a Day

When I heard this for the first time, I knew this was the album of ballads that Jonghyun said he was afraid of releasing during Crazy (Guilty Pleasure) promotions. Perhaps not novel, it is clean, fresh, and delicately phrased. A safe, successful first dip.

2/ U & I

More in the style of his BASE album, U & I is lethargically cheery. I am also a big fan of how “bare” the background is, a bit of percussion, a little keyboard synthesizer– the kind of song perfect for a live band. I’ve always thought of Jonghyun’s alter-ego as more punk rock than anything, but after his BASE promotions and now this album, Jonghyun seems to rest more on the indie-instrumental-R&B-soul side.

His “Okay” in the beginning tantalizingly almost sounds like the beginning to EXO’s Playboy.

3/ Like You

This song has bit of an R&B influence; it could as easily have been part of SHINee repertoire if it was “jazzed” up with some electronic synths. The highlight of the song is Jonghyun’s harmonization at 1.21s.  Continue reading

top 15 kpop of 2015

My annual list of kpop that I’ve personally listened to most in 2015.

1/ Call Me Baby, EXO-M 

Every time I watch this video, I cannot get over how amazing everyone looks. SM’s visual game is ridiculous.

2/ Crazy (Guilty Pleasure), Jonghyun

Everyone saw this coming.

3/ Hallelujah, Jonghyun

He shouldn’t be allowed to gyrate his hips this much, ever.

4/ Hurt, EXO-M

5/ View, SHINee

6/ Deja-Boo, Jonghyun

7/ Love Sick, SHINee

I don’t even like this song that much.

8/ Komplicated, TVXQ

Some of the best work TVXQ has put forth in the past few years, almost rivaling Tone.

9/ Love Me Right, EXO-M

10/ Lightsaber, EXO

Okay, maybe I’m becoming a bit of an EXO-L. I’m obsessed with this promotional song (kill me).

11/ Closer, Oh My Girl

As a rookie group, they’re nothing special, but this song is ethereal and quite catchy.

12/ Rise as One, TVXQ

13/ Playboy, EXO

Written by Jonghyun- begging for an official Jonghyun cover.

14/ Mansae, Seventeen

The guy with the purple candyfloss hair. It’s so perverse but I love it. They’re quite a solid rookie group from what I’ve seen, but their songs veer on catchy and annoyingly-catchy.

15/ Exodus, EXO

So 13 out of 15 songs are from SM; I forgot, when did I sell my soul to SM again?

[review] SHINee’s Odd & repackage, Married to the Music

On May 2015, SHINee magnanimously bestowed upon us their fourth studio album, Odd. Following in August, the repackage Married to the Music was released. Both albums will be discussed, first Odd and then the extra tracks in Married to the Music. Performances will be discussed last.

1

Odd 

1. Odd Eye

Taking inspiration from of Jonghyun and Taemin’s latest solo debut and SHINee’s own R&B roots, Odd Eye is a smooth whispering crooner of a song, with falsetto featured everywhere. Surprisingly, the falsetto switches between Jonghyun, Onew, and Taemin. In prior works, Taemin has not demonstrated much falsetto, but he seems to have a good grasp of the technique– though a bit too on-pitch and no vibrato, which perhaps indicates some autotune touch-up, since Taemin is usually a fairly generous user of vibrato.

I also appreciate that Minho and Key are mostly rapping in this song; when they do sing, they are in a low register that they are comfortable in. Moreover, at this slower pace, the raps flow quite well. In faster raps, Minho and Key tend to lose rhythm and it comes out rather shouty.

2. Love Sick

A typical mid-tempo dance from SHINee, meant to get the party warmed up. The chorus is slick and SHINee’s voice blends well (“you know I like it, I love it” is undoubtedly the song’s highlight). The song, as a whole, is sung straight, not much surprises or cool tricks– which is fine, of course, but there are plenty of opportunities for Onew to break into a croony falsetto, which I find I miss.  Continue reading

[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.