[review/kpop] S.M. The Ballad’s “Breath”

In 2014, S.M. The Ballad returned to the music scene. In contrast to the unit’s debut, 2014 S.M. The Ballad included women and released in three languages simultaneously (applause please, seriously impressed with S.M. gunning for the entire Asian market and not prioritizing Korea). The interesting upshot of releasing one song in three different languages is that I get to compare and lampoon everyone who is not Jonghyun. Just kidding, of course.

As this is a SHINee-centered blog, I will be primarily focusing on Jonghyun’s contribution to S.M. The Ballad, but I will briefly discuss all of the other singers and singles within this mini-album. I will also discuss the live joint recital videos that SM has posted on its YouTube channel.

breathe

Breath

SHINee’s Jonghyun and SNSD’s Taeyeon sing the Korean version, and their success is ambiguous. First of all, Breath by itself is not a memorable ballad, just another sappy mix of a piano motive, synthetic strings and teardrop beats. Both Jonghyun and Taeyeon, while sounding controlled, are at times tight and thin-sounding; as Bilbo Baggins describes, it feels like “butter scraped over too much bread.” In the beginning, Taeyeon does have some beautiful moments in her lower register, but her octave duets with Jonghyun feel uncomfortable, sharp while Jonghyun is broad and relaxed. I wonder if they are truly singing a duet, or whether they are merely matching times. There is no real interaction between their singing, and no building off each other. Overall, I believe they are mismatched as a pair; in terms of aural match, Taeyeon and Onew would have been better. Overall, Jonghyun and Taeyeon’s version is not lead vocal material.

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[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.

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Everybody 

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

[review/jpop] it’s going to be a great summer: TVXQ’s Ocean and BoA’s Tail of Hope

With a lead single titled Ocean, TVXQ has most obviously broken into the summer pop scene. Ocean is your standard pop, with just a bit of dupstep flare without the actual d-d-d-dubstepping. Rather, in the chorus, TVXQ do quite a lot of vocal repetitions, but instead of being annoying, they add to the catchiness and the intended immaturity of the song. Changmin and Yunho sound glowingly in sync as usual; it is kind of funny to reflect that Yunho was once considered the singing dead weight in TVXQ.

Being your standard pop, Ocean is merely a good song, not a great one. It is fine to thump to in the club, to listen to while drinking coconut milk on the beach, but not a song to top charts and go triple platinum. The whole song is one shade of upbeat and does not deviate; nothing exciting or unexpected happens, it is safe and sunny. What gives Ocean its special oomph is that it is sung by two professionals who work together seamlessly, and make the most of whatever they get, even if it is “oogas.” I absolutely despise the beginning yells of “ooga”, etc. Even the instrumentals by themselves sound fun, and adding the oogas doesn’t contribute much to it. The point is make Yunho and Changmin young and fun again, not silly.

The Ocean -Rising Starr Remix- is also quite nice, making for an even more enthusiastic club thumper, taking cues from eurodance in the background (think Britney and will.i.am’s Scream & Shout). I actually wish they had done more remixing, because eurodance has not been explored so much in jpop or kpop (think NU’EST’s Face). However, those who do slick eurodance usually rock a chill vibe, in constrast to high-energy Changmin and Yunho are oiled, masculine and tightly choreographed humanoids (I know you see what I did there). Perhaps it is better they laid off the eurodance.

TVXQ’s partner song in this release is Wedding Dress, a likewise upbeat song. The lyrics, “Wedding dress, say yes!” funnily reminds me of the show Say Yes To the Dress, even though I have never watched it and only heard secondhand accounts of my friends obsessed with it. This song highlights TVXQ’s maturity in the Japanese market; only older artists can sing about getting married without getting weird stares– imagine SHINee singing this. Weirdly knit eyebrows abound. TVXQ sounds carefree in these two songs, light and airy, much in contrast to their previous upbeat releases in TIME, in which I got so frustrated that I said that Changmin and Yunho should never sing happy songs ever and only sing emo ones. Clearly, I was wrong. Put with the right songs and the right mood, Changmin and Yunho can kill it. It is not simply a matter of whether Changmin and Yunho are good singers, it is also a matter of how skilled their producers are picking songs that fits their strengths and hides their weaknesses.

Like Ocean, Wedding Dress is entirely safe and entirely one shade of happy. It is catchy in a non-threatening way– you’ll enjoy listening it, and it won’t get stuck in your head afterwards. Overall, this release by TVXQ was thoroughly enjoyable. While not epic chart-storming tracks, their fluffiness is very much appreciated in the haze of summer. While we all need to read novels like Anna Karenina once in a while, it is okay to read things like Twilight from time to time (I think. Even reading the Wikipedia entry gave me jeebies).

Like TVXQ, BoA’s Japanese repertoire is significantly better than her releases in Korea. It is my theory that BoA’s Korean producers knew that Disturbance was such a dull song that they made Taemin play the male lead. In contrast, her Japanese releases are thoughtful and detailed, and the newest release, Tail of Hope, is not an exception. The beginning motif is light and actually does a great job of recalling BoA’s reedy voice. In fact, the whole song’s instrumentals are light, without much heavy bass, and is balanced correctly against BoA’s voice. This song also uses a lot of BoA’s higher register, which is usually wispy and light. Unsurprisingly, the song actually mirrors BoA’s singing voice. Light and with a catchy English hook, Tail of Hope is most definitely a summer release.

Baby you.. is a tasteful counterpoint to Tail of Hope, slower but still optimistic. While perhaps not very original, it fits BoA’s style extremely well, using both her lower mezzosoprano and her soprano head voice. I can already imagine her singing this live, and absolutely rocking the vocalizations. As with every recording that she sings, she brings minute attention to each word and enunciates everything clearly. Despite BoA’s popularity, I believe her voice is somewhat an acquired taste, because it can be reedy (see clarinet, oboe), like Onew.

Both BoA’s and TVXQ’s releases show how much depends on the artists themselves to give flavor to the songs. With decades of experience between these three people, they certainly do not disappoint. With SHINee’s (review spoiler!) superb Japanese album as a follow-up, jpop certainly seems to be gearing up for a cheerful summer.

[review] Tohoshinki’s Time (to make Michelle surly)

Disclaimer: it is currently 1:30am, and thus I may not be able to vouch for the absolute rationality of this post.

Before I rip on each song, let me first rip on the entire album. Discounting the songs that were released previously released singles beforehand, the new songs in Time all make me yearn to tear off my ears. It is so disjointed and silly and not worthy of the vocals that Changmin and Yunho possess. They also do not mesh well with the previously released singles, either. Time is a slapdash album, and it throws into sharp relief precisely what Yunho and Changmin do not excel at– happy stuff.

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What in tarnation is the first minute in Fated? It is heavy and untoward, and then breaks into a lovely bare, Yunho solo, followed by Changmin. I understand that as the introductory song, conceptually it may be nice to start with a ‘strong’ opening, but the contrast between the strong and weak parts was too unsettling. The chorus is too repetitive and too cliched to be memorable. I get it. The epic introduction. Whatever.

Next up is Catch Me -If You Wanna-. I did not review their Korean single Catch Me, which I did like, though it was simply following the dubstep dance trend. It is a solid song, with a very beautiful embellished instrumental. Their lives were simply amazing.

逢いたくて逢いたくてたまらない is probably the most awkward song to come after Catch Me. Upbeat, happy, replete with whistling sounds, and repetitive, and simplistic, it makes me want to wretch. Neither Yunho nor Changmin are exactly great at conveying cheer in their singing; their voices are on the ‘reedy’ rather the ‘full’ and ‘warm’ side, which makes it hard for them to pull off singles like this.

One More Thing and STILL I had reviewed previously, and to make a long story short, Tohoshinki rules at emo ballads.

I Know is more of the same deal: Tohoshinki ruling an emo ballad. I cannot stress enough that they are flat-out professionals at handling this genre. Every little inflection is carefully controlled, and the instrumentals are just enough to support the voices without overpowering them. The piano motif is sad and plaintive without being too commonplace. Their voices are so smooth and yet so tense and painful at the same time. Better yet, Changmin and Yunho continue to match and complement each other scarily well; when listening, you do not think, “Oh that’s Changmin. Now it’s Yunho.” It is just Tohoshinki.

Y3K is the next song, and Please Kill Me Now. The range is too low and the chorus is contrite, with the ring of “been there done that.” The rather slow beat just makes it excruciating to listen to for the whole four minutes. The yodeling melismas are just silly, too. The bridge seems to no relationship to do with the song itself– it is just an empty cesspool where we wait for the meter to return.

Thankfully, BLINK comes after Y3K. Along with ANDROID, I had reviewed these two singles, and long story short again: I was highly impressed with Tohoshinki’s clean and cohesive electrodance stylings. When compared to Catch Me, Android is the better dubstep single. It is truly an upbeat electrodance single while Catch Me is more like dressing for meat bait– the two steaks being Changmin and Yunho, of course.

When reformatted for the Japanese market, atrocious English was added to Humanoids. Think of Humanoids as the Catch Me B-side. It was not good enough to be a lead single. That is all.

Save me from this happy bland song: One and Only One. The latter half of the song, which dips into the higher register, sounds so unnaturally strained for both of them.

Is this song a love song for their fans? Judging by the six minute run time, and Yunho being forced to “la” into oblivion, In Our Time is the love song. As such, it is an insufferable song, sweet and sickly. Time to wash my ears by listening to another love song for fans, SHINee’s Dream Girl.

[review] SHINee’s Chapter 1. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You.

I hope you are all as excited as I am to analyze the SHINee’s Dream Girl comeback. I will split this review into four main parts: album, music video, lives, and overall assessment. Let’s get on it.

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ALBUM

(1) Spoiler. This song begins with the opening synth to Sherlock. As SHINee has said, Dream Girl: The Misconceptions of You should be viewed as a continuation of Sherlock. Moreover, this introduction mentions each song in the album; establishing a very clear connection between Sherlock and Dream Girl. In fact, the instrumentation used on this track is not unlike Sherlock, except a little lower and sultry. SHINee is definitely back but it is definitely in a more understated, sexier fashion. Case in point, we have wonderful chants of mostly Jonghyun singing “Tonight, tonight, tonight…” at the end of the song. In fact, this song– verses and chorus– is mostly dominated by Jonghyun’s voice. The biggest disappointment is this track is Key. There are times he does sound lovely, but often the endings of his singing parts stick out and seem largely unfinished compared to the sultry croonings of Onew and Jonghyun, and yes, even Taemin.

(2) Dream Girl. Praise lord that this is not “acid electro funk,” as described to the music critics who received a preview of Dream Girl before it officially released. This is just electro funk. If it were “acid,” it would be much more sharper and higher, and the electro part of the song would not be as full. Think Dream Girl on heroine and slowly wasting away but crying out for more to feed an addiction; now that would be “acid electro funk.”

Dream Girl is amazing electro funk. The tricky problem with funk is that if not done well, the novelty of the funk can overpower the singers– so, in essence, the audience is thinking this song is really weird and no matter how talented the performers are, they simply cannot ignore the weirdness of the funk. The song was assiduously mixed with this in mind: the funk elements are there but not in your face– we get treated to beautiful falsettos mostly sung by Onew and Jonghyun (heavy on the Jonghyun for the most part), and “funky” synths like guitar riffs and interesting bass lines, while present, are kept minimal in the background. These funky moments are likewise paired with minimal electro synthy tricks; the choruses are all our familiar Sherlock electro with a light percussive beat, so the track itself cannot be categorized as just plain funk, hence the electro funk. Dream Girl strikes the correct balance, which is what makes it such an exciting track to listen to.

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[review] SHINee’s 2012 Gayo Daejuns & SM The Performance’s “Spectrum”

KBS Gayo Daejun

(1) Sherlock (Clue+Note) [Remix], SHINee

Does not Minho look totally fat?!

Does not Minho look totally fat?!

First impressions– Minho’s outfit is terrifying. The rest are okay, and I guess can appeal to my hipster tastes, but why is Minho always put with these awkward knee-length suit combinations? With pink highlights to boot? Just because he is the tall one in this group with model looks does not mean he looks good in everything. In fact, these pink highlights are absolutely in the wrong positions; they make him look look chunky instead of svelte. However, you will be happy to learn the Minho was on key! Twice! Even if barely. In fact, this whole performance was nothing short of wildly impressive. I was so moved that I am downloading the performance as I type.

This performance was completely live, though sadly, the MR backing was too loud for most of the members except Jonghyun. Nonetheless, despite Jonghyun having the loudest natural volume, sometimes the MR even crept up upon Jonghyun. Overall, Jonghyun was incredibly energetic in this performance, growling into the microphone all over the place and channeling beasts. Perhaps he has a special lady friend he was thinking of as he performed? This was one of the more aggressive performances of his I have ever seen. Jonghyun’s scatting was amazing, throwing caution to the wind, and came out sounding studio-recorded–it was a pity that the MR was fighting his voice for prominence. Jonghyun needs to be punted back to Immortal Song or better yet, Jonghyun should become a solo act (likewise, S.M. The Ballad should release more material).

Key handled the first chorus, Jonghyun got dibs on the second chorus, and Onew rounded off the third, though only for one line. Key really is a power singer, and I do not think I give him enough credit because I am always hounding him about his raspiness. Good job, Key, really. I think being in a musical has really helped him strengthen his voice for longer periods of singing and more intense choreography. That being said, I wish Onew could sing power parts more. If there is one New Years’ resolution I could give to SHINee’s producers, it is have Onew and Jonghyun swap parts–Onew handles the higher pitched power wailings and Jonghyun handles the smooth basses. Onew and Jonghyun are both extremely competent singers at any range, and that should be showcased and used more.

The dancing was sharp, as usual, and in sync. I never have much to say about dancing because from the past five years, SHINee has been very responsible for dancing, and I have come to expect nothing less. They have not delivered below par, ever.

Overall, the song performed was not the complete song Sherlock (Clue+Note), but a remix version, including the scatting and bridge of Clue, and then ending with Note. Musically, the connection from Clue to Note could have been handled a lot better; essentially, it was just like an awkward pause, or a “we must have something” moment. Perhaps a dance break would have disguised the awkwardness a bit more. Speaking of awkward, this was the performance in which Taemin ripped his pants.

(2) 90s songs medley, Idol Super Band

*most of the videos have been removed. When I have time, I will try to find a video to put here, otherwise please Google the songs yourself for the time being, or watch the full show.

For reference,
Guitar: Jinwoon (2AM) & L (Infinite)
Bass: Jinyoung (B1A4)
Drums: Minhyuk (CN Blue)
Keyboard: Taemin (SHINee)
Vocal: Jonghyun (SHINee), Changmin (2AM), Yoseob (Beast)

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[music] top 10 kpop songs of 2012

Another one of these 2012 posts! Over the last twelve months, I hope I have gained a wider appreciation for kpop. These following 10 songs released in 2012 dominated my playlists:

(1) Catch Me, TVXQ: not a surprise. It is actually quite a solid and epic track, if not for the blubbering bridge in the middle that could have used a sharper ear for dubstep. TVXQ’s jpop release, Android, released earlier in 2012, was a great example of good dubstep pop.

(2) Midnight, BEAST: the instrumentals and the raw vocals really hooked me. B2ST should stick to their sunnier image for a bit.

(3) MAMA, EXO-M: despite the Engrish gibberish, MAMA held its own as an epic dance track. Chen wailing is not bad, either.

(4) Sherlock (Clue+Note), SHINee: the only thing to be said is “why isn’t this number one?”

(5) History, EXO-M: next to Sherlock and Catch Me, quite possibly the third sharpest dance I have seen this year in kpop.

(6) Note, SHINee: Clue‘s synths bother me, but Note‘s relatively straightforward entrance is endearing.

(7) Blue, BIGBANG: I was chilled to the bone when I heard it for the first time.

(8) Day by Day, T-Ara: a girl group appears! Amazing. Then the whole thing with Hwayoung blew up, and suddenly I am scared that T-Ara cannot get this nice sound anymore. You take what you can get; they gave us quite an amazing music video, something you can only weakly hope SNSD gets a chance to do someday.

(9) Sexy, Free, and Single, Super Junior: straight from the indomitable dance anthem gods, and gosh, how can I not resist a song with the word “bingo” slathered all over it?

(10) Beautiful Night, BEAST: for a group that I have regarded on the fringes of kpop for a while, welcome into the ilam realm of consciousness.