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.)


  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.

[kpop] short thoughts on EXO’s “Overdose”

Part of me cannot believe how much EXO reminds me of early SHINee and how much better they are than early SHINee. SM seems to be lavishing them with good production; I usually run from the smooth R&B pop (including SHINee’s) but EXO’s selections seem to continually flout the typical run-of-the-mill sounds. It also doesn’t help that Chen– and the rest of EXO– is handing in better and better track performances.


Watching the Overdose music video multiple times has made me realize one of SM’s biggest trademarks, which is surprisingly hard to duplicate (no matter how much plastic surgery)– looks. SM probably has potent combination of these three: (1) a killer team of recruiters (2) great plastic surgeons on speed dial (3) makeup magicians. Yet, despite this focus on looks, I must acknowledge SM for debuting artists that are not “typically” the ideal face, e.g., Onew, Tao, Kris, Amber. Think now: how many faces do you see like Hyoyeon and how many faces do you see like Tiffany?

Made popular in part by EatYourKimchi, I think a lot of people still sniff and complain about SM’s “music-videos-in-fancy-boxes”, and some made allowance for this type of video when the dance was “interesting”, most notably for Growl. Yet, in Overdose, just by their looks alone, EXO is captivating– in this case, a storyline would have cut down on the screentime of each member. From a business perspective, a standard box-music-video costs less in terms of concept development and set decoration; if you have fans that will lap up whatever you throw at them, why bother going that far? SM is a company that plays it safe– it will never be home of a Gangnam Style. I do feel that a lot of us in the West tend to have an elevated view of pop musicians and the art form– case in point, Lady Gaga’s release of an album expressly called ARTPOP and the legions of lesser pop stars trying to pontificate on points deeper than they actually intend (I see you, Lana Del Rey). Rather, kpop is less of an elevated art form, more like a vehicle for advertisement. It’s a means for getting the group’s face out there and not necessarily pushing an agenda of any deeper meaning. This is not a critique, this is merely reality. At times I feel incredibly frustrated listening to outside opinions because they continually project their own cultural norms without stopping to think– hey, there might actually be a reason for this behavior.

Favorite tracks on the album are Overdose, Thunder and Love, Love, Love.

my heart is breaking for Kris.

Kris has filed a lawsuit to terminate his contract with SM Entertainment.

This decision must not have come lightly; it is right in the midst of Overdose promotions and all around him, Kris sees idols who endure the suffering without saying anything. Those who chose to speak up were shut up, the most notable example– TVXQ.

Even if others choose not to complain about their situation, it does not make the situation any less worse. Kris had the courage to speak up about his situation, in an environment that discourages and shames such disclosure. From the various “reactions” of the EXO members and others, we can see that such shaming is actively occurring. At the end of the day, Kris is not Kris– he is Kevin Li Jiaheng, responsible only for Kevin’s well-being, not SM’s, nor his fans. 

Godspeed, Kris, and I wish you the best in all your endeavors. If you truly believe this is the right decision for you, there will always be people to support you.

[kpop] the state of debuts, 2013

Looking over the list of debuts this year, it was incredibly dismal. I recognized a few– HISTORY, Wa$$up, Royal Pirates– but I could not remember any of their debut songs. I could tell it was a terrible year for debuts, because though I do not really follow kpop, I do follow a number of Shawols who do. I remember when NU’EST and BAP came out, my Twitter timeline had more than a few mentions of both (more like a vomit and some people switched fandoms), but this year, buzz surrounding rookies has been small.

Instead of talking about disappointing debuts, let us talk about the kpop groups that finally broke through the barrier this year: f(x), Crayon Pop, and EXO.

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The release of Pinktape was the first serious album of f(x), and brought together what f(x) is good at paired with its oddly consistent, signature electronic sound. Listening to f(x)’s previous releases, it just all climaxes into that album, more mature and more confident. f(x) is fast emerging as a counterpart to SHINee, though they still do have a lot of catching up.

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Crayon Pop had a surprise hit with Bar Bar Bar, but the challenge in 2014 will be proving that they are not one-hit wonders, because frankly, their other songs are disasters and really shabbily produced. Crayon Pop hit the magic formula by a long shot with a catchy song and a funny dance, but I do not think they necessarily have the raw talent to push through (note: Bar Bar Bar is not in my music library).

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Last, but probably the most “wtf was that” group of the year, EXO. To me, EXO is the epitome of why S.M. is the 800-lb gorilla in the room. As the huge company, S.M. can attract the very best talents, and even if the material is a tad mediocre (cough, MAMA), once EXO hits their stride, they are fantastic. While on the surface, EXO may seem to be the reincarnation of Super Junior, they are far more meticulously crafted and far more talented as performers. Again, due to its 800-lb advantage, S.M. can increasingly reach for better songs, produced by a broad range of international professionals. Could Growl have been composed by in-house S.M. composers or Korean production houses? Decidedly not.

I believe 2014 holds the most promise for EXO, because as they are a boy group, they tend to get more Westernized, mainstream pop, whereas f(x) and Crayon Pop are girl groups and must play up the high-pitched aegyo expectations of Korean society from time to time. It is no coincidence that the enduring gold standard for girl groups in kpop is SNSD’s Gee, not 2NE1’s I Am The Best. Speaking of YG, I have no idea what happened to the “you pick who debuts” game, which was largely unpopular, pathetic, and needlessly mercenary. YG could have spent that time building up rookies’ popularity, as surely in 2014 S.M. will be assaulting us with new groups as they have revealed new rookies as well.

As for debuts in 2014, I only have one question: where is Jino? (Apparently he is starring in a musical in Japan and still is under S.M., but seriously. What about his Korean activities?)

[review] SHINee’s EP Everybody

At first look and listen, the album Everybody felt a bit deja vu. The styling concept reminded me of the red and blacks of Ring Ding Dong, and the empty-R&B-70s sound embodied by the song, Y.O.U. Well, to tell you the truth, I absolutely hated Y.O.U. despite many reviewers saying it was the surprise gem of the album, 2009, Year of US. There are just some songs that cannot be saved, no matter how silky Ontaejongminkey are. Sad to say, Everybody was much like that too.



I am ambivalent about the title track– I have a strong suspicion that if it were not SHINee singing this song, I would probably never listen to it. It seems to be going along with SM’s trend of “how loud and obnoxious can we make it?” with EXO’s Wolf, SNSD’s I Got a Boy, SHINee’s Why So Serious, and TVXQ’s Catch Me. Careening at breakneck speed, there seems to be little balance and finesse in Everybody, with everyone singing as if their veins are popping at all times.

Because of this, there are not really any memorable or beautiful moments in this song; even Jonghyun sounds strained. All together, I felt that SHINee was unable to inject much personal flavor in such a lead track. The name Everybody is quite ironic, because everybody, or at least, a good number of boy groups, would have been suitable candidates for such a single. With a few minor tweaks, TVXQ, EXO, and Super Junior would have been able to promote such a single.

Moreover, I also think that inclusion of the dubstep or “complextro” added to Everybody‘s weaknesses. It is not necessarily the dubstep itself that ruins the song, rather the overuse and misuse of dubstep in kpop makes SHINee feel behind trend– even more so because Everybody‘s use of dubstep is rather ordinary. Continue reading

[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

[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.