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.

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-in-haikus] Taemin’s debut, Ace

In the spirit of being lazy creative, Taemin’s debut album, Ace, will be entirely reviewed in haikus.

ace

1. Ace

Falsetto breathy
Too many nosebleeds from dance
Strangely his style

2. Danger

Hair so moppy mess
Beats good, voice over-processed
In lives warble heard

3. Experience

Sounds stupid at first
Cheap excuse for a dance break
Vocals passable

4. Pretty Boy

Another stupid
At least Taemin doesn’t rap
Stretched voice too throaty

5. Wicked 

Too much brass, doo-wop!
Non-compelling, non-subtle
Not Taemin’s style

6. Play Me

Ace’s bland brother 
Falsetto: breathy weakness
I prefer Reynah

[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.

updated upcoming posts; submit your favorite SHINee cover/collab to be reviewed!

Bad news first, I will no longer be posting comments on Key’s We Got Married. SHINee’s OST compilation review is still coming, but it’ll probably be on the backburner.

I’m adding a few new kpop projects:

  1. The Misconceptions of Us review
  2. Lucky Star review
  3. SHINee cover & collaborations review

My dear readers, I need your help for number 3! I’ve been so out of the kpop loop that I have missed many things (last night I just watched the sobfest that is the 2013 Melon Music Awards). Please submit any and all SHINee covers or collaborations you’d like me to address, like this excellent suggestion for Gloomy Letter in my ask.fm. Of course, you may submit more than one suggestion.

Please submit your suggestions here

[review/kpop] ToHeart’s 1st Mini Album

This is sort of, kind of, most likely, the worst duo project I’ve heard since Eunhyuk and Donghae’s album RIDE ME. INFINITE’s Woohyun and SHINee’s Key, though they are great friends in real life and have great chemistry in the music videos, their singing and rapping do not mesh well. They do not complement each other: they neither lessen each other’s weaknesses nor strengthen each other’s specialties. To be fair, it’s hard to balance with a voice like Key’s. All too obviously, this mini-album fails the balancing act and even raises the question, did they even attempt to create balance?

The production also seems off-quality– I’ve been told that it’s not the usual slew of SM producers backing this, rather from Woollim Entertainment. I’ve never really enjoyed an INFINITE song, and I suspect it may be the unfinished and corny sound that that Woollim tends to favor. Rather than SM’s style of slick pop, Woollim gives off a safe-family vibe.

In this review, I will only be talking about the album and will not review the music videos or the lives, though I may mention them in passing. Be warned, this review is more crass than you would typically read because I couldn’t find much to like about this mini.

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Intro

I can hear it now, the waves of corniness with a big side of unnecessary piano and bass comping in the background. Can I make it through without gagging? $10 on me not being able to make it to the end.

Delicious Continue reading

[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.

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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.