[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.


[piano] Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, and Schubert: avoiding them like the plague.

At the end of every semester, I sit down with my professor and discuss pieces that I would like to work on next semester. Of course, in spring 2013, I would continue with my Beethoven sonata, but perhaps I could also work on something else. My professor proffered some suggestions, “Brahms intermezzi. Chopin Nocturnes.”

Internally, I thought, “Over my dead body.”

Indeed, ever since coming to college, I have sought to avoid four composers in solo piano repertoire: Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, and Schubert, partly because I found their piano repertoire boring, and partly because I am utterly inept at producing their signature tones–for now, at least.

what pianist hasn't thought this at one point or another? The pedal can be very forgiving, especially in impressionism.

what pianist hasn’t thought this at one point or another? The pedal can be very forgiving, especially in impressionism.

Johannes Brahms, in his lifetime, was considered the ‘heir’ of Beethoven. Brahms detested this title because this gave him so much pressure. However, with his sweeping grandeur and sense of darkness and thick chords, very much like the late Beethoven, Brahms has deserved that title. Brahms commands a full, expansive sound from the piano. Given how much I am struggling with early Beethoven, in which this full, expansive, and authoritative, tone begins to take shape (but is not quite there, requiring an alacrity of touch still), I cannot begin to fathom Brahms. However, dutifully, I sightread through the intermezzi that my professor suggested and I became utterly lost. I had no idea what direction Brahms intended to go, and these strange chords sat heavily on me–not a desirable feeling for a first impression. So I kicked away the possibility of playing any of the intermezzi.

Frederic Chopin is a cornerstone in any serious pianist’s repertoire, because Chopin composed so extensively and meticulously for the piano. However, I suppose I am not a serious pianist, I have only a few childish Chopin in my repertoire, and do not seek to add any more, currently. To me, Chopin is the emo composer. He demands not only technique, but he demands feelings to be added on top. Think of the pianist as a painter– the pianist’s brushes and paints consist of various techniques which combined together, supplies the richly colored, lush, and dreamy tone. However, without a skilled painter with a vision guiding these brushes and paints on the canvas, these techniques will never make a beautiful painting on its own. So it is with emotions. Without the emotional imagery behind Chopin, it is never really a true Chopin. I lack the emo anguish and the consistent technique for a lush tone, so for now, I skip on Chopin.

There is a saying that a child can play Mozart better than an adult can. This is a telling phrase. To correctly render Mozart, the touch must be light, clear, playful, and yet, virtuosic. The music must flow as rills of an elegant stream, glow like the translucent hands of the most beautiful woman alive. Its object must be divine epiphany, and its confidence must be in unerring perfection. The music is perfect itself, too; it is said that after writing down the music, Mozart hardly ever made corrections or additions to the score. In short, to play Mozart properly, one must channel humble virtuoso. That I am not good at. It is much easier to be an arrogant virtuoso. Being a humble virtuoso allows far less mistakes. It is much easier to attack the virtuoso parts rather than leisurely enjoy their perfection. Those who claim to master Mozart: worriers need not apply. Under-confident need not apply, either. Yet, at times, Mozart is just too perfect, just too predictable. Sometimes, I see no drama in Mozart, and there is no interest.

Franz Schubert— flat-out, I find him boring. A simple version of Beethoven, not quite at the perfection of the Mozart, just a bland reinterpretation. Bland. His music always seems to melt into the background whenever I listen to him. Schubert, let’s meet in another lifetime.

classical music is stuffy? pshaw! classical recs for fans of pop/rock/electro/…

In my experience, people tend to think of classical music as one huge, static genre. Far from it– there is some classical music I love to death, others, meh, not so much. In a lot of ways, classical music can be very similar to the popular music that most people listen to nowadays, but it can be hard to find that particular classical music you click with.

Thus, in alphabetical order, I have listed popular genres and based on the genre, underneath I wrote some suggestions of classical music for you to listen to. Of course, being a pianist, this will be a little heavy on the piano side. If you have any suggestions for me or would like me to add a category, please let me know!

In popular music, country is a genre which can encompass many idomatic sounds of the American region– but true country has a deep soul; nonetheless, it also has levity and is loose and free. Personally, I am in a mature stage of loving American composers, so this corresponding genre of classical music is very dear to my heart. Though to European ears, the American sound may be uncouth and very loud and brassy, but it is so adorable and kitschy it is hard to fight back a smile.
(1) An American in Paris, George Gershwin. A perfect summer piece to dip your toes in.
(2) Rodeo: Hoe Down, Aaron Copland. This. This piece is amazing live. If you ever get a chance to see the Philadelphia Orchestra play this, you must go. In fact, if the Philadelphia Orchestra is playing anything remotely American, just go. They are the best orchestra in the US where American music is concerned.
(3) Piano Concerto in G major, Maurice Ravel. An impressionistic composer, Michelle? Really? Yes. This piece was heavily influenced by jazz, and its presence in this concerto is whimsical and floating and altogether very beautiful.
(4) ‘American’ String Quartet, Antonin Dvorak. Dvorak composing in a field in Iowa. Best idea ever. Also one of the pieces the Emerson String Quartet played when I saw them.
(5) Excursions Suite: no 1, Samuel Barber. Every piece in the suite hearkens to some American idiom. When I listen to the first piece, I think of trains. What do you think?

Dance / Electronic
Unless you get into the really hairy avant-garde in classical music, classical music does not use much electronic elements. However, I am interpreting this genre as ‘upbeat’. Some upbeat pieces you could (theoretically) dance to.
(1) Caprice no. 24 in A minor, op. 1/24, Niccolo Paganini. Probably the most well-known piece in virtuoso violin repertoire.
(2) Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, RV 531, Vivaldi. Love at first listen.
(3) Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig Beethoven. The third movement is definitely a head-bopping moment.

Easy Listening / New Age
A great genre for some relaxation and contemplation.
(1) Adagio for Strings (choral version), Samuel Barber. One of the seminal pieces of the twentieth century; even DJ Tiesto made a remix.
(2) Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I and II, Johann Sebastian BachGlenn Gould is the go-to pianist for Bach. His interpretations are fantastic to listen to (however, once you start playing Bach, you realize sometimes Gould is a bit crazy at times). Bach is amongst the most cerebral composers I know, and it is a pleasure to play his works, if only to get a mental workout. I also like Maurizio Pollini‘s interpretations.
(3) Dolly Suite, Gabriel Faure. A cute and light set of piano duets (four hands, one piano).

Constantly listening to sad ballads? Want to cry your tears out?
(1) any Frederic Chopin– some choices: Nocturne op. 9 no. 2, Piano Sonata no. 2, Fantasie-Impromptu op. Posthumous, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor. Chopin is mindbogglingly beautiful, but many times, I cannot handle the level of emo and would rather hack away at something aggressive. However, if you are super emo, do some soul-searching in Chopin.
(2) Pour le piano: Prelude, Claude Debussy. I’ve played this before in eighth grade. Why? Because it was emo.
(3) String Quartet in G minor, op. 27, Edvard Grieg. The first movement, Un Poco Andante, Allegro Molto Ed Agitatomight be a little more hardcore emo than you bargained for, but you cannot deny the entrance as one of emo anguish. If you like heavy metal, definitely grab onto this.

Epic / Soundtrack
I love listening to the Transformers OST and the Bourne trilogy OST, and sometimes having epic music on hand while racing through bus terminals is quite fun (I have no life).
(1) Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor, op. 18, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Certainly one of the most recognized openings of all piano concertos.
(2) Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16, Edvard Grieg. Play me that beginning chord anywhere and I can recognize it immediately. This piece is iconic– it was even featured in a Li Yundi Nike commercial!
(3) Transcendental Etude, no. 4, Franz Liszt. Not ashamed to say, I first heard this in Nodame Cantabile. I also discovered that Boris Berezovsky sweats a lot (watch the video).. unsavory..
(4) Cello Concerto, op. 22, Samuel Barber. The beginning, gargle. The cello cadenza, gargle. For this concerto, my bias is Paul Tobias.

Hip Hop / R&B
This is a genre that I listen to infrequently, but nonetheless, a genre with lots of soul. And lots of bass.
(1) Julie-O (special beatbox arrangement), Mark Summers. The original is amazing, as well– as it is played by the composer himself.
(2) Libertango, Astor Piazzolla. If Yo-Yo Ma is playing it, it is automatically gold. No questions asked.
(3) Romeo and Juliet: Dance of the Knights, Sergei Prokofiev. Yes, this definitely has a lot of bass; could fit in the emo section as well.

Basically, the genre for us snobs who like saying, “I listened to them before they became popular.”
(1) Paganini Variations for two pianos, Witold Lutoslawski. Yes, I blather a lot about this piece. But still– people still do not appreciate it enough. It is also rather avant-garde, so you can brag about that too, hipsters.
(2) Tzigane, Maurice Ravel. Everyone who plays an instrument classically has a phase of liking impressionistic composers like Ravel and Debussy. I was in the phase in high school, but now I have thankfully gotten over that. Even those who profess to love Ravel oftentimes have neglected this amazing virtuoso violin piece.
(3) Simple Symphony, op. 4, Benjamin Britten. A twentieth-century composer who does not get enough love at all, even in the classical music lovers’ circles. I would have a listen to his cello concerto as well.

Catchy, catchy, catchy. Hook, hook, hook. Infectious and fun.
(1) ‘Trout’ Piano Quintet in A major, Franz Schubert. Another piece I heard at the Emerson String Quartet concert— the most well-known chamber piece. In China, one of my roommates’ ringtone was this annoying MIDI version of Trout, so boy, was I glad to stop listening to it after I moved out.
(2) Bolero, Maurice Ravel. Yes, this is used in the opening of SNSD’s Paparazzi music video (you can guess a certain someone was frowning). However, Ravel’s Bolero on its own is indescribably beautiful, though it is the same thing over and over again. Pity, Super Junior’s artistic directors should try learning from this piece.
(3) The New World Symphony, Antonin Dvorak. The last movement could go under “Epic / Soundtrack” very well, but overall, it is an amazing piece of music, filled with memorable melodies. If you have a chance, listen to the four-hands one-piano version arranged and played by Duo Crommelynck.

Rock / Heavy Metal
For those of who love a good head-banging with strong rhythms. Bitches love Shostakovich! Heh.
(1) String Quartet no. 8 in C minor, op. 110, Dmitri Shostakovich. The allegro molto (second movement) is an absolute thriller. You can never go wrong with the Emerson String Quartet.
(2) Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor, op. 67, Dmitri Shostakovich. This trio’s melody was actually based on the previous string quartet’s melody. However, this arrangement is so amazing that it deserves to be mentioned. The allegretto (fourth movement) starts off ‘slow’, but once you reach the climax, grip the seat because you probably will not survive.
(3) Cello Sonata, op. 8, Zoltan Kodaly. I recently got into cello, but I really must listen to more Kodaly. His name is so fun not to.
(4) Firebird Suite, Sergei Prokofiev. The first time I heard this was in sixth grade– our teacher had chosen a snippet of it to be played in our band concert– and I fell in love immediately. Plus, there is this awesome Disney Fantasia movie to go along with it. Fetch me some tissues.


[piano] why keep your nails short?

The other night I was noticing some discomfort as I played the piano. My piece this semester requires a lot of huge chords, and so I need to be especially careful of how I attack the piano– my fingers are curved, with the fingertips touching each key. Yet as my fingertips met each key, I realized as I pressed down with my fingertips, my fingernails started bending slightly out and I felt pain from skin and fingernail separating. I checked my nails: yes, they were too long.

If you have taken a string instrument or piano for a while and with several teachers, you have probably experienced at least one telling you to cut your nails short or one actually handing you a pair of garden shears nail clippers and ordering you to cut them then and there (I was subject to the latter).

But why keep your nails short?

(1) Click-clackety noise: Probably the most obvious. I remember talking to other young piano students when I was young and asked them why their nails were so long, and they replied they actually like the click-clackety noise. I was sort of flabbergasted, because even then, I thought there was nothing more annoying than a steady march of falling clacks while the passage is supposed to be smooth and legato. This is a bit like humming while playing the piano; it is distracting and not called for in the piece itself.

(2) Constrains technique / muscle strain: It is much easier to use the fingertips to play the piano rather than the playing using flat fingers with the pads of your fingertips, so you can avoid touching the keyboard with your fingernails. Try it yourself on your computer keyboard; is it easier to type while your fingertips are curved or while your fingers are flat? Also, with a flat hand, your wrists will most likely rest below the piano’s keyboard, which can result in wrist injury like carpal tunnel syndrome.

(3) Pain while playing: This is probably most evident if you are playing loud passages that require a lot of force applied to the keys like I described in the first paragraph. Your fingernails are longer than the tips of your fingers, so your fingernail keeps pushing down on the keys and eventually bend out because your fingertips which you are using to play the piano are shorter.

(4) Fingernails caught between the keys: heard on the pianist grapevine, apparently someone once caught their nail between the keys and broke their finger. Ouch. I would say this is a very small chance, though.

For those serious about learning piano and those who are playing seriously hard pieces, keeping fingernails trimmed is necessary. My nails are actually quite long even when they are cut to the fingertips, so if I put on nail polish, it does not look like I have stubby fingers. Yet, I have refrained from using nail polish because it usually chips early at the tips (I guess I am too passionate), and I am sort of apprehensive of my piano instructor’s reaction when she sees my black pearly nails (emo Michelle alert! emo Michelle alert!). However, rest assured, nail polish is fine as long as you keep your nails cut to a suitable length.

[review/kpop] Jonghyun, Immortal Song: ep. 2

review ep. 1, review ep. 3

As usual, remember (a) I am not a professional singer nor do I have a deep knowledge about singing (b) this is my opinion only, you’re free to have your own and debate as you see fit, but if you disagree, be respectful. (c) Jonghyun sang live, and didn’t sit in a recording studio for days to get it perfect, unlike the original singers, so yes, these reviews are inherently unfair.

Performance 3: Left Handed, Panic

**note: I uploaded this quickly myself because I couldn’t find a video on YouTube for it. It’s unlisted, which means I don’t want people to be flocking to it (copyright issues?), it’s only intended for this blog’s readers to listen to. Feel special! So please, don’t go sharing the link to this video willy-nilly, or even worse, re-uploading it yourself.


The original song is pretty snappy and happy. If I was a more universal fan of that high school garage band / indie genre, I think I’d like it very much. In the way of high-school-garage-bands, the singers generally don’t have amazing voices– they have weird timbres, weird ways of reaching notes, but that all adds to the high-school-garage-band charm. So, I don’t have much to criticize or remark upon the singing in the original.

Jonghyun was in a band before he became a trainee, and he played the bass. He actually mentions that he invited some of his old high school bandmates to help him out, so I thought the interaction between the instrumentalists and Jonghyun would be much better than his second performance, when he sang A Million Roses. It really was.

For some reason, Jonghyun decided to go the heavy-metal, scream-o route during the downbeat highlights, and Jonghyun and the band were synchronous in capturing these almost whimsical changes in mood. The beginning chords reminded of Smells Like Teen Spirit— this arrangement was definitely more grungy than the original, and so Jonghyun’s novel scream-o didn’t sound too out of place. I say “too” out of place, because it’s a little unnerving to hear them the first time he does it; it’s so unexpected. He gets points for taking that risk, and more clearly juxtaposing themes of happiness and defiance.

Though Jonghyun’s voice sounds nothing the original, I couldn’t help but feel this song was suited for him to sing, a good mixture of low and high melodies. This song was also suited for him to perform. Jonghyun looked as if he was indulging his rocker fantasy on stage– dancing crazily, doing vocal ad-libs– because any chance of that with SHINee would be nonexistent. It was all very natural for him, and all very natural for Jonghyun, all very natural for us to watch. He conveyed the infectious happiness, mixed with a twinge of anthemic defiance, of the song very well. Sometimes I wonder if dancepop is the right genre for him, because his voice, though it drew comparisons of Michael Jackson in the beginning, can handle a lot of complexities of the rock genre well, and he does not always have to be the go-to falsetto and wailer on SHINee albums. As I mentioned in the review of episode one, Jonghyun has a great lower register as well that is rarely used, sadly.

I must contradict myself a bit. Some of Jonghyun’s ad-libs seemed too rehearsed, especially the cue for audience waving, and the part where he announces his ambidextrous capability (woops, I didn’t realize the video I provided isn’t subbed. Around 2min35s, where there’s only a drumline, Jonghyun says, “I have a confession to make. [emo-scream-o mode] I’M AMBIDEXTROUS!”). Of course, I don’t expect Jonghyun to come up with them on the spot, but they seemed a little lacking and a little like, “OK, this is what I need to do” or especially for the latter, “let’s get this over with because I need to focus on the next scream-o note.” Losing this rehearsed quality comes with familiarity of performing without an intricately detailed script before live audiences. But S.M., letting SHINee do their own things? Ha!

Watching this made me remember that Jonghyun is the true singer in SHINee. He always set his eyes on this life, while the others were scouted first or had more general dreams of becoming entertainers. So, as much as I love SHINee, it pains me to think that an alternate Jonghyun’s success could have been denied by being shuttered with four other people.

Final Grades (0-100, 100 best, 50 as average, roughly anything 75+ means I was impressed a lot)

  • Perf. 3: 85.

**if interested, click to read the notes I took as I watched the original and Jonghyun’s performances:
**if any links are broken, let me know!

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[kpop] best SHINee live performance outfits, 2010

Come on, guys, you know what a horrible fangirl I am, missing all the Gayo Daejuns to play Professor Layton and waking up at 12PM.

However, though I am a subpar fangirl, from the first Lucifer live performance, I have made myself watch and download every single live performance they’ve had since: Hello, Lucifer, and some Hot Times and Miss You for Jonghyunie! Though I’m not a terribly big fan of the leopard and solid colors S.M. stylists decided to outfit SHINee with in Hello, I’ve definitely had some eye-gasms with some outfits, or some clothing items (in chronological order):

100730 Lucifer, Onew:

Onew had those awful tie-dye pants on, but his shirt sort of took away from that. The shirt with a mesh back–the shirt in which we could see through! This fancam of Onew giving fan service (flexing his back and flashing his stomach.. yes it looks like he has some sort of abs! squee!) is adorable! Whoever was the stylist who thought of giving Onew a see through shirt was a genius. Fangirls appreciate.

100730 Onew; Onew was crying because of their Mubank win so he didn't show his face, but we see his back anyways. :D

100731 Lucifer, Jonghyun:

His shirt. Is just Pure Architecture. The white stripes on the right arm, and the triangular cut on the left bicep. I can’t get over the bicep that we see. Sure, Jonghyun does wear a lot of sleeveless shirts, but something about this angular cut makes us yearn to see more and it really highlights the injured feeling Lucifer is about. This is all strangely complemented by his poufy, straight hair. The white pants provide the right connection to the rest of his outfit.

100731 Jonghyun

100820 Lucifer, Taemin:

A manly style. Finally. The necklace really emphasizes the long torso and the lower neckline. Simple, but elegant. Simple, but elegantly manly. Tear. Little maknae is growing up. (He’s still younger than me, goddammit!)

100820 Taemin

100827 Lucifer, Jonghyun:

I’m usually not one for color (because I’m emo and depressed over paper grades all the time), but this one, nailed it. The white against a precious, low-cut apricot shirt. Fun, but also a little dangerous: white ripped jeans.

100827 Jonghyun

100911 Lucifer Goodbye Stage, Taemin:

He had amazing hair that day. Amazing eye makeup too.  The whole golden-black ensemble would have worked, if not for the clunky triangle necklace. Sigh.

100911 Taemin

101008 Hello, Jonghyun:

Just like Onew’s see through shirt. This very, very low v-neck, highlighted by the two necklaces, on Jonghyun shows his pecs without actually showing his pecs. The result is devastating. To fangirls, that is.

Moreover, it’s a triple cardigan. They’re so warm and make you feel fuzzy. Jonghyun is a heap of warm fuzzy niceness, of course. This is my favorite outfit of all.. it’s probably because as a kindergartner, I love cardigans!

101008 Jonghyun

In this whole list, I’ve had lots of Jonghyuns and no Minhos or Keys. Is this a Jonghyun bias? I wouldn’t say so, because of two reasons– Minho and Key are special in SHINee; Minho is the ‘manliest’ and Key is most fashionista, therefore, I believe the stylists go out of their way with unmemorable, ‘manly’ outfits for Minho and fantastically cutting-edge-wtf for Key. Next, Jonghyun has good combination of manly (big muscles) and girly (small waist, s-curve) that makes him any stylist’s darling, able to wear most anything with snazz.  If say, Taemin were to wear Jonghyun’s 101008 outfit, we’d be horrified to discover he has no pecs.

Happy 2011, kids. Play nice on the playground, now.