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.

mindless pop alert: Years & Years

I cannot get over how mindless and deliciously numbing Years & Years’ debut album is.

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

[classical] everything it should be: Czech Philharmonic’s Dvorak and Smetana

Two weeks ago, I randomly thought to myself, I’d love to hear Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony in e minor (“New World”) live. I randomly googled for performances in DC; to my delight, the Czech Philharmonic was giving a free performance of it in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. A Czech orchestra playing the quintessential Czech composer! For free!

On the bitingly chilly and wet Monday evening, I trekked over to the National Cathedral (which is irritatingly situated so there is no metro within 20 minutes walking distance) and sat through close to one hour of speeches by eminent politicians, furiously complaining on Facebook chat to one of my classically-minded friends that “I’m never going to hear the music.”

Once the Czech Philharmonic finally started playing, I couldn’t stop the tingly feelings in my spine and my hands unconsciously making small motions loosely following conducting movements. The warm, golden strings reverberated in the National Cathedral, the brass rang clear yet smooth and rounded, and the orchestra was like a well-oiled, luxury vehicle, refined, deliberate and cohesive. They had both restraint and spontaneity, purpose and whimsy. It was a nuanced performance, yet with breathtaking vistas overall. I can confidently say this is one of the best orchestral performances I have ever heard– certainly, the Czech Philharmonic was a step beyond just understanding Dvorak. They had the experience and supple musicality to execute their visions well and in full.

The recording that I listen to most often is the two-piano arrangement by Duo Crommelynck. The arrangement distills the essential lines very clearly and cleverly; Patrick and Taeko have a raw energy that is particularly, I think, suited to Dvorak’s folk melodies and rhythms. Yet, listening to the Czech Philharmonic interpret this music in real time reminded me why the cold brilliance of the piano can never match an orchestra. Of course, any reasonably good pianist can create warmth, but at its core, the piano is a percussive instrument. Strings have no such bite, and the tender moments are all the more moving– the sound swells in a way that pianos cannot.

The Czech Philharmonic also played a selection from Bedrich Smetana’s My Country. I often think of Smetana as a lesser Dvorak, but perhaps I have not given Smetana a long enough listen. The selection was a little heavy-handed in motif repetitions; while also a common occurrence in Dvorak’s music, Dvorak tends to vary the repetitions much more whereas Smetana sometimes seems to be needlessly doing recycling. As this is a paragraph of complaints, I will lodge one more– the National Cathedral is not a good space for an orchestra. It is long and narrowly tall, more suited for chamber music than a full-bodied orchestra. A better venue would have been the National Shrine, more open and airier.

In the future, I’ll keep an eye out for the Czech Philharmonic, especially if they are playing Romantic or Classical repertoire; they’re just begging for a Yo-yo Ma Dvorak cello concerto collaboration. I also have a funny feeling that they’d be absolutely fantastic with Samuel Barber’s cello concerto as well. One can only hope.

[review] SHINee, Misconceptions of Us

Misconceptions of Us is a repackaged album with two new songs, Selene 6.23 and Better Off. I have previously reviewed Misconceptions of You (Dream Girl) and Misconceptions of Me (Why So Serious).

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Selene 6.23

Yiruma, a famous Korean pop pianist, composed Selene‘s instrumental. A bit about what I think about Yiruma: he’s not a classical pianist or composer, despite some people insisting on labeling him that way. He may play as well as a classical pianist but for me, Yiruma is the kind of music you’ll hear in the elevator five years down the road. It’s tired and true, and while it may be popular in the short run, it’s nothing new– and so it is with his instrumental for Selene 6.23. Some swelling strings and a spare piano melody; if the song is going to be any good, it has to come from SHINee.

This song is a little different than usual SHINee songs as each individual singer sings more lines at one time– e.g., we do not hear Taemin come in until the second chorus. The chorus is sung by individual voices– mostly Key, Onew, Jonghyun– without a blended “voice” as we usually hear on lead singles. It’s actually quite nice, you can really focus on each singer.

Both Minho and Key were better than they usually are. Minho still sounds carefully controlled but alas is no longer a frog; his voice color more or less blends in with SHINee but you can still tell he is uncomfortably holding himself in a higher register. His voice, for the most part, still sounds from the throat and floats through the head. It makes zero sense that they gave him the high parts of the song when he could just have taken a part from Onew or Taemin; Onew and Taemin would be able to handle the higher register just fine.

At times Key has a problem with ending his phrases– they’re abrupt and without any vibrato, so sometimes it sounds like you’re in front of a warm, crackling fireplace and then you are thrust in the cold. It’s still a problem in Selene 6.23. However, he surprised me in the second chorus, as he starts quite low and sounds eerily like Onew in his breathing, delivery and control (1.53s). I am divided about Key– sometimes he shows pockets of brilliance and then reverts to his bad habits; he’s been like this since debut, even more so lately. It’s like he cared a lot about his singing at debut but has been lax about it in the last few years. It’s troubling.

Jonghyun and Onew kill it, of course, when they trade back and forth and double up in the chorus, it is evident that they are the vocal souls of SHINee. It’s been a while since I have heard their voices so together on a recording– and only them two, explicitly. Selene 6.23 just confirms that their voices blend incredibly well; Onew’s voice especially, has aged well.

Taemin was a weak presence on this album as a whole and while his parts were non-offensive for Selene 6.23 and Better Off, that is all they were. Neither special nor bad. It sometimes puzzles me to see Taemin as a solo artist now because his presence on a SHINee song can sometimes even be less than Key, despite having more lines.

Better Off

Like Selene 6.23Better Off is an inoffensive mid-tempo ballad. Check out Reynah’s piano arrangement instead.

Key, two thumbs down.

Business as usual.