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.


[review] Tohoshinki’s “ANDROID.” (Toho, never come back to Korea please)

The latest release from Tohoshinki is “ANDROID”, a mini-album with two songs: ANDROID and BlinkANDROID is the lead single, and rightfully so, its hook is so infectiously catchy and singable, along the lines of Superstar. Changmin and Yunho’s vocals are incisive, precise and energizing– as usual. The only squabble is the incognruous dubstep bridge, which is quite late to the jpop scene considering Daichi Miura’s release of Black Hole more than half a year ago. The “modest gothic remix” of ANDROID is not bad either, definitely a treat for those of us who like mainstream metal, like Seether or Linkin Park.

The music video and choreography for ANDROID is nothing spectacular, but due to the eargasms that the song itself induces, I forgive them for all of their funny outfits (and people were complaining that Sexy, Free & Single had weird fashion). I would rather a strong song rather than a flashy video.

so, about dem outfits..

Blink is a weaker version of ANDROID, mostly due to a less catchy hook and its lusterless bridge, but nonetheless, a strong track as well. Its vocal strings of “Nananana” reminds me of f(x)’s tendency to use nonsense syllables, indeed in their latest track Electric Shock, they sing “Nananana” as well. However, the biggest difference between these two songs is that Blink is a strong track all together. Electric Shock is punctuated by many empty-sounding singing breaks that ruin the upbeat pace introduced in the beginning. f(x) gets a lot of heavier electrodance beats, but sometimes I feel like they are lost kids running around a supermarket, and their vocals float around aimlessly; whereas Changmin and Yunho are experts at anchoring and drawing listeners in.

Overall, I am very impressed with the level of consistency two-member Tohoshinki in Japan promotions is able to produce, from Tone to Still to ANDROID. Yunho now raps very little, and I am very grateful for this trend because his nasal voice fits extremely well in these two tracks. I will say it again, that yes, I am very grateful for a Changmin and Yunho duo, for they suit each other perfectly. Beginning with Japanese LP Secret Code, Tohoshinki has developed a signature sound: thick-textured electrodance, with a bit of electro-ballads, usually more up-tempo than down. This contrasts with TVXQ in Korea, which is still electrodance but cleaner, and more R&B influences. A comeback in Korea is probably in the books for later this year, but if that never happens, that is fine with me– as long as we see another Japanese LP. Pretty please.

[kpop/review] Taemin and that abyss on Immortal Song: ep. 3, 4, 5

Third performance; “I Don’t Know” by Uhm Jung-hwa

In terms of emotion and connecting to the song, this was much better than Taemin’s first performance. It was like he had monitored his first performance and then methodically worked out what needed improving. Even so, I still could not shake the feeling that it was still rather stock. Taemin hit everything, he modulated his voice correctly, he looked down when he was supposed to, and yet, what still frustrates me is that he never makes one movement that seems unrehearsed, that seems spontaneous, that disturbs one piece of hair on his perfect head. At his climaxing note, it was all very correct, but at the same time, did we really feel the buildup to this climax? Did we really feel a sense of relief when he returned to the chorus?

Of course, we must return to my number one complaint against his voice; his ‘thickness’. It much more regulated this time around, but it still lacked clarity. When I mean ‘clarity’, I do not mean we understand everything he sings, but rather we can distinguish it from background music, and indeed, in some cases, the background music overwhelmed Taemin’s vocals.

Taemin seems like he does not wish to take risks, or even worse, he knows he cannot take risks and come out the stronger.

Fourth performance; “Terminal Mapo” by Silver Bell Sisters

The first thing I typed while watching it was, “good god not more dancing this song is not his style at all”.

As I complained in my second review and in my review of his fifth performance (below), having Taemin dance so much is a mistake. Especially this time around, because this kind of doo-boppy, sort of happy piece is not a place to choreograph Taemin’s signature pop-and-lock. Compare to Kyuhyun’s performnace of an upbeat, happy duet with Kim Min Jong, in which they choreographed this silly dance at 1.59s:

Notice another thing? Both Kyuhyun and Kim Min Jong were smiling and so obviously enjoying themselves. Mapo Terminal is likewise a fun song, but Taemin’s facial expression for the majority was a stoic stone. Notice one more thing? Other than silly dance in the middle, Kyuhyun does not do any complicated dancing for the rest of the song, and yet delivers a performance, in my estimation, even more upbeat and engaging than Taemin. It would have been better if Taemin had minimal choreography so he could focus on bringing the best vocal performance to the stage. That is what a singer is; someone who can move others just by opening their mouth.

Likewise, with his third performance, Taemin is missing clarity. He is missing dynamic modulations; the entire song was mostly just one volume. He had lots of backup singers. He got covered by background music sometimes because he did not project. I do not usually comment on clothing, but he could have worn something colorful to emphasize the upbeat nature of the song.

There is, however, one golden spot: 3.19s. Taemin just lets go for a bit, and it is actually quite beautiful. But then after a few seconds of looking into the black abyss, Taemin runs back to his safe cave.

Fifth performance; “Wrongful Meeting” by Kim Gun-mo

When considering Taemin the performer, I actually quite liked the performance.

When considering Taemin the singer, I was highly dissatisfied.

f(x)’s Amber guest appearance! Taemin three dance breaks! Pretty trance lights! Trance clubby music! All in all, a very exciting performance. Yet–

Like with his second Immortal Song performance, Taemin falls back on his go-to crutch, dancing. Some people may say it is playing to his strengths, but I disagree. This show is called “Immortal Song”; naturally, everything but voice is supposed to be secondary. Then why does Taemin have so many dance breaks compared to the other participants? Even in the original song, there are only two places where one can have epic dance breaks, but coincidentally, Taemin’s song is arranged so that there are three dance breaks. Hmm.. Taemin is really sticking to his cave this time..

From the start, Taemin had heavy backing vocals (singers whom you can see at 7.05s), and his high note was safe and boring. I was impressed by his accuracy but then immediately dissatisfied with how he elongated the note and let it die out so ignominiously. It was a good stock performance by Taemin, his thickness of voice did not show as much, but then again, this song was not as hard to sing as his previous choices. He simply did not have to bring out his terrible throaty voice; moreover, he did not have the time and space to do so as he was vigorously dancing; in this way, this performance is very true to Taemin’s real ability as a singer (which is a sad revelation as I head off to listen to SHINee’s Sherlock).

This was an example of a performance that drew perfectly from everything, from the environment, the music, to the performer itself, to hide weaknesses in each. To distract from Taemin’s emotionally flat voice, we had the dance and flashing lights and orange jacket. Additionally, the arrangement of the music was terrible– the rough transitioning from trance to live band music and back to trance, and back and forth, but then we did not pay attention as our attention was riveted to this young man in a orange flashy jacket, this young idol, this young entertainer, this young performer.

read review on Taemin’s first performance, second performancesixth / seventh performance on Immortal Song

[kpop] Michelle reacts to Kids React to K-Pop

TheFineBros is a comedy channel on YouTube, and their most watched segments are “Kids React To…” and yesterday, it was revealed to be kpop.

They watched SNSD’s “Gee“, Super Junior’s “Bonamona“, and 2NE1’s “I AM THE BEST“. Right from the get-go, this video attracted haters, and I have got to say, some of it was sort of justified.

Some comments made by the kids that especially struck me:

#1: I can’t understand this. Why do people listen to it if they can’t understand it?

It’s like watching subtitled movies, eating Mexican food, listening to Bach. You may not understand the language, you may not know how to cook Mexican, you may have no idea what the heck a semidemiquaver is, but you can enjoy it nonetheless.

#2: What is up with my generation?! How can people listen to such horrible music?!

This was just mainly one kid. He was so effusive and exaggerated about asserting what crap kpop is, and how he hates his generation. Fine, rag on the music being crap, but not on people of your generation! They like what they like, you hate what you hate. Fair?

#3: omg they’re just imitating Pussycat Dolls! … (think for a minute) Lady Gaga!

Eye-roll. I feel like nowadays when anybody ever does anything crazy, it is always compared to Lady Gaga or is imitating Lady Gaga. I remember reading some YouTube comments for Dev’s “In the Dark“– amazing track, by the way– and comment after comment was like, “She’s crazy. Like Lady Gaga!” Probably you can pull out any popular electropop nowadays and you will see some “Reminds me of Lady Gaga” out there. Though I think Lady Gaga is an inspiration, I think it is a little early for her to be influencing performers that have already been performing for much longer or around same time frame as she has. Plus, everyone wants to be different– that’s their selling point. What you don’t get with Gaga is what you do get with 2NE1, with Dev, etc. Rather than just seeing something nutty and labelling it as Gaga-esque, you need to consider if the nutty is in Gaga-style. I think most of us can agree that 2NE1-nutty is not Gaga-nutty.

#4: “What language are they singing in?” — “Chinese.” “Japanese.” (a billion years later) “Korean!”

I recognize the fact that none of them are East Asian and thus may not have much exposure to Korean. Chinese is increasingly taught in more schools in the United States, China is seen increasingly as an antagonistic rival to the US and garnering more media coverage, and Japanese has long enjoyed a cult status in Hollywood, like Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls, Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Kill Bill” and lots of popular dubbed anime like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. To be honest, I did not learn what Korean BBQ was until my senior year of high school (!).

Nonetheless, I sort of hit my head on the keyboard when so many of the kids failed to identify that it was Korean.

Now reclining in my Throne as Queen of Pretension, I have to say, those older kids were being pretty pretentious. They were trying to make very strong judgments from mal-formed opinions.

However, I only said that the anger directed toward this video is “sort of” justified.

Because look, they’re kids.

still have a soft spot for Mr. Frodo ^^

They’re airheads, but they’re children. I remember that age I was an airhead too. I loved Lord of the Rings and started calling everyone names from Lord of the Rings. I thought Daniel Radcliffe was the coolest boy on the planet because he played Harry Potter, even though he wasn’t good-looking or anything. I fawned over my battle prowess in Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh and petted myself as the strongest trainer there was even though the time I spent with a GameBoy was negligible. I thought George W. Bush should win the 2000 election. Heck, I even thought Bush should win the 2004 election, because John Kerry came across as creepy to me. I even wrote a stellar essay on why George Bush should win– which got me an A for the semester. But did I really know anything in-depth about the issues? About the war? About tax programs? Not at all. I just thought Kerry was a good-for-nothing-flip-flopper. Unless you are a prodigy, which very few of us are, it is really hard for us to absorb so much information at young ages and actually know how to process and understand it. So a lot of what we ‘understand’ as young children are just sound-bites like “flip-flopper” and half-formed opinions we regurgitate from our parents or custodians.

Second, they’re American kids. Especially for the Caucasians who probably do not speak a second language at home, they will probably never need to know any other language other than English for their entire lives. As diverse as America is, our language is extremely insular, due to the fact that English is the lingua franca or common language of the modern world today. One can pretty much get by in the industrialized world just knowing English.

Of course, I am not saying that these traits should be encouraged– because airheads don’t contribute much to the economy, it is personally enriching to know other languages– but we should all recognize that as preteens, we were all once know-it-all airheads and allow a little more leeway for these children when criticizing things like this video. We should not be “Imma stab you with a fork” but rather, putting it in simple and gentle terms why they are mistaken in their views.

I also am skeptical that if they were raised in a more culturally-aware environment they would turn out to be great global children-citizens, because children will be children, and so children will be airheads about some things or the other. They might not say something like All Asians Look Alike again but they might say something else just as politically incorrect. No one is born with a politically-correct compass within them; it is something we learn as we grow.

Though the video was exasperating for those aforementioned comments, a good half of them said they would listen to kpop again, and they said it looked very “future-y”. Taken in good humor, it was genuinely funny and entertaining to watch. Also, don’t tell me that none of y’all haven’t ever had a moment where you’re watching kpop and thinking, “what in the world are they doing?!”

Jaejoong the alien. I still don't like this hairstyle of his.. !

I guess some people had beef with the fact that some kids looked down on Korean artists for not creating their own music. America prides itself on originality, and I believe it does hold true in much more cases compared to kpop. Gaga, Britney, Beyonce, Katy, they all hold much more singing and producing credits than do BoA, Hyori, Rain, Se7en. So even if  the American stars’ contributions were negligible, the US perpetuates a (facade of) self-production culture that South Korea does not perpetuate.

In the end, I renounce all claims to judge their opinions, for I can also remember my phase when I had a vendetta against Asian pop stars. My mother always used to read the entertainment sections in Chinese newspapers and while she read them I would prance around her, pointing at grainy pictures printed in the paper, saying that these Asian people had weird hair and their fashion sense belonged to aliens. Nowadays, I’m just like, “Hey look, Jaejoong is in the news.”

my top 10 most played kpop songs, 2011 edition

In this list, I am only counting songs released in 2011. Also, even if they were released in Chinese, I still count them within the genre of kpop.

(10) B.U.T (BE-AU-TY), Tohoshinki

I got introduced to this song via tumblr. As in, I saw some pretty gifs of Yunho and Changmin and I was like, got to watch! I actually never ended up watching the video, but I listened to the song, and then I think my mind sort of melted and proceeded to download all of Tone and then I proceeded to have music eargasms for the next month.

(09) Somebody to Love, Big Bang

I remember thinking when I first heard this track, it was weak and forgettable, their voices autotuned so slickly they sounded like part of the background. Also, you have Justin Bieber’s much catchier Somebody to Love yelling for room in my small brain space. Yet, for some reason, Big Bang’s Somebody to Love is number 09, beating out SNSD’s The Boys and Super Junior’s Mr. Simple by miles. Seriously, there was a time after SMTown NYC that I listened to both The Boys and Mr. Simple non-stop.

(08) Maximum, Tohoshinki

It must be the effect of the Japanese. Totally blew by my head when I listened to their Korean “Why? Keep Your Head Down” album when it came out in January 2011. Then it totally hit me as a huge dance track in November 2011 and now after a month of listening, it has infiltrated a list that has been brewing for an entire year (!).

(07) One’s Way Back, Jonghyun

So I panned him majorly when I reviewed him in Immortal Song. But part of the duty of a Jonghyun bias is to obsessively listen to all of his solos. Right.

(06) Superstar, Tohoshinki

My, my, the third entry for Tohoshinki. Maybe I should really self-identify as a Shawol/Cassie, a Casswol, a Shasie? Changmin and Yunho have definitely grown on me this year. I will not lie, it is partially because they still hurt so obviously over the TVXQ split, especially when they are on variety shows and are ‘avoiding’ names. It is heartbreaking. Plus, they are such seasoned and accurate performers. Every ‘live’ I see them in is impeccable.

(05) A Million Roses, Jonghyun

How can you say I am not a good Jonghyun bias fangirl? How?

(04) High High, GD&TOP

Just an infectious track, coupled with an infectious music video. I think if any track out of this entire list could have gone to Western market, it would have been this one. Technically released on December 24th, 2010, but really, 2011 was like six days away!

(03) Why? Keep Your Head Down, TVXQ

The Korean, not Japanese version. The epic brass and heavy bass stomping are all up my alley. I just love the bass. One time my piano instructor asked me if I was left-handed because I always listen and play so well to the bass line (I am right-handed).

(02) Perfection, Super Junior M

darn you, Soundcloud! Here is the link to the music video instead.

So, my taste in music ain’t so great. Through this video I started to like Ryeowook because he looks pretty snazzy in eyeliner (while Kyuhyun still manages to look priestly).

(01) Tonight, Big Bang

I really, really liked G-Dragon’s weird fur hoodie in the music video. I did not like his smashing of guitars in live performances. Poor guitars that GD actually did not even play before he smashed them. I actually thought this was a weak track as well, everything sounded so autotuned that one part melted into the other (e.g., I always have trouble telling Seungri and Taeyang apart). But, I guess, setting this as your alarm and being too lazy to change it guarantees this as the most played track of the year.

In the end,

(a) I have terrible music taste
(b) I universally dislike kpop girl groups
(c) I am only into kpop for the electronic dance songs and pretty boy Jonghyun.

said pretty boy ^^;

A lot of high-profile comebacks this year: Beast with Fiction, Super Junior with Mr. Simple, SNSD with The Boys, 2NE1 with I Am The Best and Ugly, 2AM with Hands Up, Wonder Girls with Be My Baby, Brown Eyed Girls with Sixth Sense— yet with the exception of 2NE1 and B2ST, they were all pretty half-baked. They were big simply because their names were already big. 2011 was a year for building up to great things, it was a year for many debuts, but it was simply not a good year for great music.

Who do you think had the best release in 2011?

[kpop] SM, YG, Cube slated to debut new groups in 2012.. wait, who cares about Cube and YG again?

SM is set  to debut a group codenamed M1 in 2012, supposedly “male-SNSD” with seven members. YG is set to debut a new girl and boy group. Cube is readying its guns with a seven-member boy group.

supposedly SM's new boy group, M1

YG and Cube new groups? Who really cares (as much)?

If there is one thing SM is ridiculously good at, it’s aggregating people together together into groups that work, well, ridiculously well. Sure, you may not have the best music, you may not have the most talented members, but something magical happens, and you have groups like Super Junior, SNSD, SHINee, TVXQ*.

Someone interjects at this point and says, “Wait, what about BIGBANG?”

BIGBANG is a popular group, but it’s not a cohesive group. It’s not just me, but other reviewers have commented how individual the members of BIGBANG feel in their latest album together. Note that I do not mean ‘individual’ as ‘special’, but as ‘not working together as a group’. They’re individuals collaborating on an album, not a group pulling an album together. Of course, 2NE1 has a very good group dynamic, but the fact they are modeled as female BIGBANG feels somewhat of a cheat to me.

B2ST is just not popular enough. When I mean popular, I mean, Super Junior, TVXQ, BIGBANG popular. B2ST has not made it there yet, and neither has Cube. Cube is a formidable company, but since SM is the big gorilla in the room already, SM can afford and attract the better choreographers, better producers, better everything, than Cube can. So to some extent, Cube suffers a bit from the inferiority of the product it can make on average (though there can be exceptions) compared to what the 9000 kg gorilla can do.

Even S.M. The Ballad was a ridiculous exercise in how well SM can push people together and have it work amazingly– in the recorded tracks, the performance and in real life. Watching their interviews, it was so clear why they debuted Jino (supposed member of M1!) instead of including Ryeowook, Yesung, or Onew in S.M. The Ballad; someone needs to fulfill bashful cute maknae, and it works. Kyuhyun fit perfectly as a hyung (despite being maknae of Super Junior), Jonghyun settled into his virtuosic status, Jay was the ‘bad boy’ (I say this with reservations, because Jay naturally has an unsavory look about him). The result was magic. Magic in their two lead singles, magic in their interviews, magic, magic, magic– even though this was a very low-key debut right before Christmas. SM just has talent sitting in its closets, bursting out of their ears.

The interactions between their performers, as people, fit together so consistently well; that is why SM artists dominate the television waves and variety shows. They are entertaining. They are entertaining together. I can’t say anything to how the SM artists behave themselves in the dorm, but the balance in the outward personalities and their strengths always manages to astound me. SM groups are good at everything– they may individually not be much, but the sum of their parts is staggering. YG stays away from overexposure on variety shows to develop their artists’ talent, and I respect that, but you will never have a completely versatile group, and in that, SM reigns supreme.

So I’m sort of excited to see the blend SM has whipped up this time.

Also, I want to see Jino again!

courtesy of puffshroom, i.e., I'm too lazy. From left to right, Jay (TRAX), Kyuhyun (Super Junior), Jino, Jonghyun (SHINee)

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