U-KISS are better than your oppars aka EX(wh)O

Hearing Alone for the first time was like every holiday had been mixed together and stuffed inside a pie.

 

While I have been MIA for the past several months, I assure you my ears have been awake and working hard. Where some groups have been doing shit-all (that means you, EXO) others have been working their pretty, sculpted backsides off to no avail.  Arguably, EXO’s success—which has come about from one mere, mediocre mini-album—is riding off the power of their company and label mates’ established names rather than their own merit and hard work. Because of this, I find it difficult to not to shed a tear for the poor souls on lesser known labels whose talents are just as good as—or perhaps better than—the power groups of SM, YG and JYP Entertainment.

Yes, I’m looking at you, U-KISS.

  U-KISS-Stop-Girl-Wallpaper-u-kiss

U-KISS have been so prolific in my absence (actually, I haven’t gone anywhere—I’ve just been lazy) I’m actually using this semi-opinionated rant article as a mass review for the stream of releases in Japan and Korea over the past few months. Following DORADORA, our little workaholics have released eight MVs, two Japanese singles, two mini-albums, one full-length album, and two digital singles that no one actually remembers. The point is U-KISS have done more in seven months than some groups (coughexocough) have done their entire career. Is this the result of the age-old quality vs quantity debate? Maybe. Or a testament of label power? Most definitely.

As fun as it is to rip on EXO—their fans are so blindly and hilariously defensive it’s actually sad—that is not the point of this article. I’m here to glance over U-KISS’ recent endeavours and lament over their continued but unjustified lack of notable success. I know I’m supposed to be (relatively) unbiased but get over it: U-KISS are awesome and deserve my love and your money.

DORADORA was very quickly succeeded by yet another mini-album; The Special to KISSME hit our screens just one month after DORADORA with title track Believe. While notably lacking the edge and style of the previous release, Believe was certainly fresh and easy listening. I mean, how could it not be with all those pastels and aqua? Written by member AJ, the track was catchier and more likeable than anything called Believe should have been. Thus, AJ’s decision to take a brief hiatus from the band to pursue tertiary education was the saddest day of my life. (It wasn’t really, because I’m not insane.)

AJ’s departure did not leave the hole I thought it would: Stop Girl was an amazing mini-album and despite its ballad-like appearance, it didn’t make me want to kill myself as ballads tend to do. If that isn’t a credit to U-KISS’ talent then I don’t know what is. The black and white MV was poignant and the inclusion of an English version of the song was very much welcomed. Another highlight of the Stop Girl mini was accompanying ballad Time to Go. I’m not really sure what it was about September that made me so welcoming to slower tunes, but I certainly won’t complain because this album quenched a thirst I didn’t know I had.

Somewhere in between Believe and Stop Girl were Japanese releases, Dear My Friend and One of You. I don’t really have a much of an opinion to offer on these tracks because Japanese music labels are monumental tight-arses when it comes to offering full-length videos on YouTube, thus I have never given them more than a once over. Evidently, they were not that memorable—much like digital singles Cinderella and Gangstar Boy which no one outside the diehard KISSMEs have even heard of. Rounding out 2012 was yet another mediocre Japanese ballad by the name of Distance. It was … nice. And that’s all I’m going to say.

If 2013 is not U-KISS’ glory year then something is horridly wrong with the world. The year has started strongly in the industry, headed by new releases from big guns SHINee and Super Junior M. While I think Breakdown is brilliant and my ears like Dream Girl much more than my eyes do, my highlight so far this year is U-KISS’ latest Japanese single. Hearing Alone for the first time was like every holiday had been mixed together and stuffed inside a pie. And if there’s one thing I like, its pie. Alone is dark, gritty, catchy and undeniably sexy. Even Kevin with his androgynous looks and borderline homosexual mannerisms had me swooning. The sheer joy this song had AJ forgotten in seconds. But let’s face it—what group actually needs three dedicated rappers? In any case, this song had me cursing avexnetwork more than ever for being so narrow-sighted and backwards and not having HD version of their music videos posted in full to their YouTube Channel. Believe it or not guys, free public exposure is actually helpful. Who would have thought?

No comeback, however, is official unless it takes place in Korea.  While I question the decision to release so closely to SHINee I strongly commend U-KISS on their comeback stages. Personally found title track Standing Still had much more of an impact than SHINee’s eye-murdering Dream Girl. If wardrobe was anything to take into consideration then U-KISS would have won hands down because God knows SHINee’s stylist should have been euthanized years ago.

Taemin's awful wardrobe in DREAM GIRL

Standing Still is an amazing showcase of vocalists Hoon, Kevin and Soohyun. As with much of U-KISS’ discography these three carry the bulk of the workload, and with well-earned justification.  And Hoon’s blond hair is just smokin’. Appearance aside, Standing Still is a solid track and I regret to say I’m unable as yet to locate a copy of the full album, Collage. How about you import some Korean CDs other than TVXQ, eh Japan?

Let’s put praise on hold for a minute and remember: no band is perfect. While U-KISS’ music and vocals are definitely up to snuff their choreography blows more than an underpaid prostitute. This is not really a reflection on the talent of U-KISS themselves but more the rather strange inspirations of their choreographer. How about we take a moment to remember the enraged chicken of the Neverland video.

U-KISS - Neverland Dance

But if the industry worked on dancing prowess alone, there would be some serious eyebrows raised over Super Junior’s success. Yes, that is an unveiled stab at Heechul. Possibly Yesung. Definitely Ryeowook.

And on that note …

[MINI-ALBUM] U-KISS – DORADORA

Dora Dora Dora Dora the Explorer?

It might appear I’ve been too busy for Kpop and that’s mostly because I have been too busy for Kpop. Although full-time employment has unfortunately interfered with my music blogging it hasn’t prevented me from listening to all the new releases hitting the stores. As always, it’s been a tale of hit and miss, but let’s get back into things with one of the sure-fire hits: U-KISS DORADORA.

U-KISS - DORADORA

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: U-KISS is severely underrated. As hard as I try to be apathetic in blog posts and keep my personal biases close to my chest, it’s hard when something as fresh and wonderful as DORADORA pops up. I was first introduced to U-KISS when they released Neverland and, with the inclusion of their Japanese debut, the seven-member band has continued to go from strength to strength. Now with the release of their sixth mini-album I think it’s safe to say U-KISS has solidified their sound. And what a very good sound it is.

Title track DORADORA is, at first glance, a jumble of genres. With its unusual deep and low opening, DORADORA ends very different to how it starts once the power vocals of Hoon and Soohyun kick in. Let’s ignore for a moment how much the chorus sounds like Dora Dora Dora Dora the Explorer and enjoy what it has to offer as a whole: the bass-heavy melody is delicious and when coupled with the ridiculously catchy (albeit unfortunate) chorus, there was no way this song was to be anything but a hit. Unfortunately for U-KISS (and their beloved KISSME) this was not reflected in the charts as strongly as it should have as their comeback coincided with Girls’ Generation TTS’ debut, who—unsurprisingly—took a clean sweep of the music shows with Twinkle. But if the boys continue to churn out delights such as DORADORA I dare say they’ll be winning one of the weekend stages before too long. I’ll cross my fingers for them.

The MV for DORADORA is just as wonderful as the track itself. Although Kevin looks as though he’s dressed in a picnic blanket and Eli’s hair is an offensive shade of white, the boys have a crisp, mature image more or less epitomised by AJ. That short hair is working for you, boy, keep it up.

DORADORA - Screen Cap 01 DORADORA - Screen Cap 02

Now, for me, the choreography for DORADORA is the selling point. While I have been known to laugh at U-KISS’ dancing prowess in the past—seriously, what was that dance in Neverland?—they certainly stepped it up with Tick-Tack and Forbidden Love and maintained this standard with DORADORA. Loaded with body rolls and undulating pelvises the choreography is painfully erotic—especially when you consider maknae Dongho being but the tender age of seventeen. Awkward difference in our age aside, DORADORA is an utter joy and there is very little I can seriously find to fault. And that is rare indeed.

Amazing served as the teaser for the mini-album, being released prior to the full album drop. The track was penned by member AJ, who has done a fine job on this dance hit. While it pales beside DORADORA, Amazing is more than satisfying in terms of tempo and catchiness. As always, there is little to note vocal-wise aside from Soohyun, Kevin and Hoon who dominate with their combination of power, harmony and the ubiquitous wail. The track is a great little party piece which will no doubt raise the mood as you can’t help but cry out it’s so amazing.

A notable highlight for me in regards to this album was the single ballad track which manifested in the form of 사랑이 멈출 [When Love Stops]. Contrary to what you’re all expecting, I actually really like this song—it’s emotional, powerful and strangely moving despite the language barrier. Have I become more tolerant of ballads recently? It’s possible; however I don’t expect to be listening to this song—or any pop ballad—on repeat anytime soon but it certainly is a nice track.

4U (For You) rounds out the new tracks on this mini-album. It’s lighter than both DORADORA and Amazing and consequently weaker. Once again, it’s not a bad song, but it’s not that great either and would have been rather forgettable were it not for the cringe-worthy line Thanks to you I’m jumping like a kangaroo. Cheers for that, Eli (AJ? I have no idea).

The album finishes up with an instrumental of DORADORA, which no one cares about, and a Korean version of Japanese super-hit Tick-Tack, renamed TICK TOCK (OUT OF TIME). The wonderful thing about this song is regardless of the language in which it is sung it’s still ridiciously great. It’s interesting to note in addition to the Japanese the English lines also underwent renovation. The rewriting of this handful of lines has certainly changed the overall meaning and feel of the track. Was this a smart move? In my opinion: yes. The two songs are very different and have gone from being a simple language swap to almost individual tracks. That said, I will always listen to the Japanese version for no particular reason other than it was the one that came first.

Although I still rate U-KISS’ Japanese tracks among their best and strongest, the boys have certainly proven themselves contenders on their native Korean charts with DORADORA. With their follow-up mini The Special to KISSME released little over a month behind DORADORA it’s safe to say U-KISS are set to give their home turf a pounding. You go, U-KISS.

[MINI-ALBUM] 4minute – Volume Up

While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of.

 It should come as no great surprise when I admit I’m not a real lover of girls groups; with the exception of 2NE1 I find the cutesy, sugar-flower looks and sound of many groups entirely painful.  But I’ve always found 4minute to have a bit of an edge and it’s because of this I approached their new release with mild excitement.

4minute 'VOLUME UP'

We all know I hate intro tracks so skipping over Get on the Floor the first song on this little mini is title track Volume Up. Coming off the back of previous releases I My Me Mine and Mirror Mirror, Volume Up sounds classy as hell. With the delightfully smooth saxophone combined with HyunA’s fierce rap and the delicious wails from fellow members, Volume Up certainly has impact. Not to mention the video is still jam-packed with 4minute’s trademark sex appeal.

Love or hate HyunA—and I know she has a lot of haters—people can’t deny her sexiness, especially in this video with hoards of backup dancers grinding into her. Against an expensive set and fabulous outfits the girls all look fierce and erotic causing even the straightest of females to go woah mama. While I don’t understand the ‘vampire’ image I’ve heard the MV described as containing, it certainly is dark, edgy and mildly gothic with a hint of sophistication which is reflected in the music itself. While their visuals still pander to the wants and needs of horny teenage boys, musically 4minute have matured. Well, sort of. The emotion, power and overall feel of Volume Up certainly reflects this but the girls disappointingly fall back into their party ways in the latter half of the album.

Following on from Volume Up is I’m Ok which continues this newfound mature vibe. In spite of the mellow appearance, I’m Ok is chock-full of powerful, raw emotions, making it one of the best tracks on the mini-album and possibly one of their greatest songs to date. Say My Name falls back into 4minute’s familiar party girl rhythm and is certainly high in the energy and fun departments. While not as memorable as Volume Up and I’m Ok thanks to the comparatively hollow emotion, it’s a solid enough track and progresses the album nicely.

Femme Fatale is once again a high-powered dance tune but is a little light on the badass-ery the title suggests. Dream Racer is relative funky and it’s no surprise the girls’ elected to perform this alongside Volume Up during their comeback stage. Still, I personally would have preferred to see I’m Ok up against the title track as I feel the two complement each other nicely; however Dream Racer is a safe choice due to the familiarity it no doubt possesses for 4minute fans.

Finally this leaves Black Cat, which is by no means the weakest track on the album. With its jazz feel spoiled by auto-tuning the vocals, the originality of the track is weakened but still contains enough difference in sound to make it stand out amongst the other songs on offer.

4minute’s new mini-album is a fun, energetic floor-filler underpinned with mature emotions. The girls’ have well and truly maintained their sexy sound and image and managed to grow a little in the process. Although the subtle power of title track Volume Up is not carried solidly across the whole mini-album, overall it is fun enough to listen to. That said, it’s probably better enjoyed on the dance floor of a party than through the speakers of one’s stereo.

[MINI-ALBUM] EXO – MAMA

EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent.

It’s been a long time coming—five months, to be exact. With twenty-three teasers, two prologue singles, a special showcase, modelling videos and over one hundred days of hype, EXO are finally here with debut mini-album MAMA. I’ve already speculated how SM Entertainment may have hammered us with too many teasers but have my predictions turned out accurate? In a word: yes. I’ve never been more underwhelmed.

EXO-K 'MAMA' EXO-M 'MAMA'

The frustrating thing about MAMA is the debut track itself is quite brilliant but I can’t appreciate it to the full extent due to the noticeable lack of excitement I felt when hearing it for the first time. With all of EXO’s talents put on show through a mini-concert and abundance of teasers there was no element of surprise when MAMA hit online media sites. Instead of flailing with utter anticipation I welcomed the long-awaited single with a flat sigh and an oh it’s finally here.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 01

Aside from SM Entertainment’s terrible decisions in regards to EXO’s pre-debut activities, they have surprisingly achieved what they set out to do: create a new sound set to light the world on fire. What places MAMA aside from the plethora of groups making their debut early this year—B.A.P, NU’EST and BTOB, for example—is the lack of ‘hook’ lyrics or melody in order to draw in an audience. Instead of the catchy choruses we witnessed in the aforementioned debut groups’ lyrics, EXO present us with an edgy, fierce, almost pseudo-rock single topped off with a cherry in the form of a screamed rap bridge. This is all made all the more impressive and powerful by the ominous English cult-inspired chanting at the beginning and end of the track. When I first heard the song during EXO’s pre-debut showcase hosted by Super Junior’s Lee-everywhere-Teuk, I originally thought these lines to be in Latin. I wish I continued to think this.

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 02 EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 03

As if to spit on the prowess of the song, SM has coupled MAMA with a typically low-budget MV that is practically identical to what we already saw in prologue single History. The set is unsurprisingly inside the company’s trademark box, alternating between a sleek temple-esque dance room and a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland. The other features of the video include largely unrelated, random clips, many of which were released in part as teasers, making the MV pretty disappointing due to the lack of new (or original) footage. The most painful part of the whole experience, however, was the tacky narration at the beginning outlining the supposed mythology related to the fabled EXO Planet. I have no idea why SM decided to write the ‘legend’ of EXO and I honestly don’t really care. As if anyone is going to believe that shit anyway? It’s agonisingly lame and adds almost two minutes to the MV. No, just, no.

In any case, EXO-M and EXO-K have presented entirely identical music videos (obviously) so there’s no reason to waste any more of your time by watching both. Pick a side—M or K, whichever takes your fancy—and just roll with that. Personally, I selected EXO-M. Why? They’re so nice to look at. And there’s no Kai [1].

The rest of the debut mini-album seems shorter than it actually is due to the inclusion of prologue singles What Is Love and History. I have no idea why SM decided to include these tracks when it seems, judging by the song excerpts featured in the many teasers, EXO have plenty of tracks at their disposal. Listing What Is Love and History alongside the new releases made EXO’s debut mini-album all the more underwhelming due to the lack of new material with which they provided us. Even MAMA was shown to the public through their showcase leaving only three new tracks on offer. I expected to be disappointed and even with the utter joy that was MAMA, EXO is still just like visiting a restaurant where the entrees are too small and the main so inadequate that you no longer care whether the dessert is decent. Because there was so much hype I felt obligated to listen to the album due to the time and interest invested in pre-debut activities. But I can’t say I’m excited about it.

The sound displayed on the mini-album is by no means cohesive; with a range of R&B ballads, hip-hop and electronica EXO have all bases covered but at the expensive of defining who they actually are. Just what exactly are you trying to be, EXO? In general, EXO present a very different vibe to recently debuted groups which will no doubt pique the interest of those who managed to bury themselves under a rock during the onslaught of teasers. MAMA, History and Machine are perhaps the most similar tracks, displaying subdued backing music and an emphasis on vocals. Machine is the weakest of these songs and it’s no wonder it remained hidden while the former received early attention.

Hip-hop track 双月之夜/개의 달이 뜨는 밤 [Two Moons] featuring label mate Key from SHINee adds yet another facet to EXO’s diverse genre catalogue. The song is literally painful to listen to and sitting through both Korean and Chinese renditions made me groan. With no climax or dynamic soundtrack Two Moons bounces along like a souped-up car down a suburban street. I immensely dislike this song to the point I would have to say I prefer ballad What Is Love. If you’re an avid reader of this blog then you’ll understand how high a criticism this is. But perhaps I’m being overly harsh on What Is Love as, admittedly, I also prefer it to 你的世界/너의 세상으로 [Angel], which is just plain boring. It has a great harmony and the vocals are pretty—blah, blah—but the fact remains it’s still weak. Truth be told, Two Moons, Angel and Machine are all soft in comparison to the previously released tracks on the album. This is perhaps the greatest disappointment: not only did SM spoil would be EXO fans with too many teasers they also shot their payload on the prologue singles leaving nothing but a sad and shrivelled final product to be unveiled to the public.

EXO are by no means a bad idol group. They are fresh, new and different but the lack of excitement fuelled by anticipation for their debut hurt my overall impression of them—I’m simply not as interested as I could be as I’ve already seen all EXO have to offer. MAMA, the mini-album, is a lopsided product featuring three very good tracks and three comparatively poor ones. Basically, if you enjoyed the tracks released before the mini-album dropped on April 9—MAMA included, as it was released on the 8th—you can save your time and money because it really doesn’t get any better.  Even so, my love and respect for title song MAMA has me very much looking forward to seeing EXO-M perform live next month when they support Super Junior in the Australian leg of their Super Show 4 World Tour.

Now that’s something to get excited for.


[1] You can read all about my love [read: hate] for Kai here

[SINGLE] LEDAPPLE – Time Is Up/Sadness

I perhaps have a little bias when it comes to LEDapple but it’s hard to ignore Aussie Pride.

Despite having been around for two years now, I only came across LEDapple when they released new single Time Is Up at the beginning of 2012. Although I have nothing to compare with, I’m told changes to the band’s line up has brought about shifts in their sound. But I don’t care what LEDapple were like before—I like them now just fine.

LEDapple 'Time Is Up'LEDapple 'Sadness'

The New Year saw LEDapple return with new vocalist Hanbyul and the staggered release of singles Time Is Up and Sadness in January and March respectively. I usually don’t review two releases in the same post but given both singles contain just one track I thought I’d make the exception. Well, there are also intros and instrumentals included but who cares about those?

Korean ‘rock’ bands don’t have a wonderful reputation in my eyes thanks to the comparatively flavourless FT Island and CNBLUE but LEDapple turned out to be refreshingly poppy. The edgy rap verses combined with a delightfully catchy chorus of Time Is Up has created a wonderful end product that will, as Kpop should, get stuck in your head. The MV is watchable but very, well, boxy and features some awkward choreographed moves for the two vocalists, Hanbyul and Kyumin. The members also randomly sprout mechanical appendages without any discernible reason.

LEDapple 'Time Is Up' Screencap 01

LEDapple are noticeably different from both FT Island and CNBLUE in that they don’t sound like The Beatles and this is no doubt due to the inclusion of rap against a modern pop backdrop. Maybe I have a latent love of rap to which I am yet to admit that has caused the incredible soft spot I have for this track but either way LEDapple has given me a new, more optimistic outlook on Korean soft rock bands. Newcomer Hanbyul’s voice suits their apparent new sound and fans should welcome him with open arms.  While I’m not really sure how one goes from studying dentistry to becoming a lead vocalist in a Korean rock band but I’m quite glad Hanbyul made the conversion. As he was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, I perhaps have a little bias when it comes to LEDapple but it’s hard to ignore Aussie Pride. I mean, how can you resist that cute accent?

The more recent release of Sadness shows yet another side of the new LEDapple by presenting a mellower yet still catchy pop-rock track. Although mostly devoid of all that rap I appreciated so much in Time Is Up the small inclusion at the end was just enough to add that flavour missing from other soft rock bands on the market. The main downside of this release is how stunningly boring the MV is; I know you’re a band and you like playing instruments but do you really just have to stand around and play them? LEDapple almost managed a dance in Time Is Up and that small factor does contribute to that MV standing miles apart from those of the same genre. Longer clips of the drama episodes interspersed throughout the instrument-playing would have made Sadness slightly more interesting. But only slightly. And I just can’t with that matching hair dye; I couldn’t with B.A.P and I certainly can’t with LEDapple.

While I’m more than happy with the 2012 singles LEDapple has granted us but I have to say I’m a little curious about their previous releases. It would certainly give me a more informed opinion of the band’s overall talents and sound but where’s the fun in that? I’m more than content to appreciate LEDapple as they are now. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, that is.

[MV] SUPER JUNIOR DONGHAE&EUNHYUK – Oppa, Oppa (Japanese Ver.)

Considering how popular Kyary Pamyu Pamyu seems to be (you have no idea how much this legitimately baffles me) if Japan don’t lap this crap up I will genuinely be surprised.  

I first became acquainted with Oppa Oppa when I saw a fancam of Donghae’s Super Show 4 solo (shockingly—read: obviously—featuring Eunhyuk) on YouTube. I said it then and I’ll say it again now—Oh dear Lord what were they thinking? Despite the copious numbers of WTFs floating around in my head, I still followed each and every one of Donghae&Eunhyuk’s Korean promotions during December last year. The single has since been ported across to Japan so could this be the start of a new Super Junior sub-group? Oh God I hope not. But I kind of do.

All ridiculousness aside, I love this song. Why? I have no convincing answer for you aside from the fact it’s just so stupid it works. That and it’s catchy as hell. I can’t even give the song itself a proper review because I don’t even know where to begin. All I can say is there is no one more perfect in Super Junior for a concept as ridiculous as this. What can I say? Ridiculous works for these two.

D&E 'Oppa Oppa' Screen Cap 01 D&E 'Oppa Oppa' Screencap 02

Watching this video I really feel like I’m looking at deleted scenes from an Austin Powers movie. Undeniably inspired by the disco era, Oppa Oppa features everything you could possibly want in a music video: simple dance steps, catchy chorus and vomit-inducing costumes. How could anyone say no? Obviously I’m taking the piss because everything about this song makes me want to smash my forehead against a brick wall because I feel it lower my IQ with each play through. But considering how popular Kyary Pamyu Pamyu seems to be (you have no idea how much this legitimately baffles me) if Japan don’t lap this crap up I will genuinely be surprised.

Now, you may be getting the wrong impression so I’ll reiterate—I really love this song. I’ve listened to it so many times my IQ is in negative triple digits and I continue to go back for more like a shameless glutton. It’s just so catchy and so much fun I can’t say no and the more ridiculous it seems with each repeat the more appealing it ultimately becomes. The reason being Donghae and Eunhyuk just do not take themselves seriously. I mean,  how could you when you’re rocking out in a car like a gangster?

The brilliant part of this whole project is how successful it was bound to be with very little effort on SM Entertainment’s behalf. Putting Donghae and Eunhyuk together for a side project would draw enough attention on its own due to the undeniable chemistry the two have, which is obviously and quite smartly exploited by SM in this case. But love or hate EunHae no one can rob this song of the credit it deserves in the catchiness factor. Next to Big Bang’s Fantastic Baby, Oppa Oppa certainly ranks as one of the year’s most likely tracks to get stuck in your head for days on end. It has plagued me for months now.

Despite my usual disinterest in Korean-Japanese re-releases Oppa Oppa has transferred quite smoothly and works just as well in both languages. Of course the hook line ‘Oppa Oppa’ was never going to be translated into Japanese (it just wouldn’t work) but as a whole the song seems to have retained its unique character. The words flashing across the screen are certainly a delight because it adds to the overall tackiness of which this PV reeks. But hey, it’s working for them so why not? Though, for the life of me I cannot understand why Tokyo and London were expressed in Japanese while New York and Paris were not.

D&E 'Oppa Oppa' Screencap 04

Considering how badly Shindong wanted to be involved in this song when the duo were promoting in Korea—he even went as far as to make his own MV[1], which for the record had more time invested in it than SM Entertainment’s ‘official’ version—it’s great to see he finally got his wish and made a cameo in the Japanese PV. I’m not entirely sure why Sungmin is there but I’m never sure why Sungmin is anywhere. Can someone please explain/justify his inclusion in Super Junior M for me?

D&E 'Oppa Oppa' Screencap 04

It’s really hard to express how bad this song and PV are while still conveying how good it is. Everything about it is laughable but there is a little something that makes it endearing. Maybe it’s the obvious amount of fun they’ve had promoting this song or maybe it’s simply just down to how catchy it is. Regardless, Oppa Oppa is one song I love just as much as I hate it and I sincerely hope Donghae&Eunhyuk churn out more of these shenanigans for the sole purpose of my amusement.


[1] You can see his version here on SM Town’s official YouTube page.

[SINGLE] 2NE1 – Scream

Scream is full of 2NE1’s trademark personality but a little lacking in the attitude department.

I find 2NE1 particularly refreshing in the grand scheme of Kpop as they can’t really be pigeonholed into the respective sexy or cute categories like much of the female idol cohort. With their powerful and generally non-sexualised image they certainly do stand apart from many girl groups on offer and their wild appearance is just the cherry on top. But let’s all remember kids: appearance is not everything.

2NE1 - Scream

2NE1’s music fortunately supports their strong image and personality and this brings them very close to being the full package. I know I’m approaching bias and girl-crush territory but I assure you this is piggy-backing across from the utter brilliance that was the 2NE1 Second Mini-Album. But however unfortunate this may be, Scream is not the Mini-Album. This short Japanese single is catchy at best, but lacks the punch of previous releases, most notably Can’t Nobody and 내가 제일 나가 [I Am the Best].  Scream in no way compares to its heavyweight predecessor—released as Nolza in Japan—but is still quite listenable. I always have more respect for original Japanese endeavours than shoddy translations so Scream is already a winner in that regard. The track is full of 2NE1’s trademark personality but a little lacking in the attitude department, with this only showing through in Minzy’s and leader CL’s rap, making Bom’s power vocals during the chorus the overall standout of the song.

I’m always interested in 2NE1’s music videos, not because of any outstanding choreography—because let’s face it, it blows—but due to their ridiculous fashion. I shake my head at anything Dara wears ninety-percent of the time and admire CL’s often androgynous getup. In regards to Scream, maknae Minzy deserves all the points for her indecently BAMF purple velvet suit. Any videogame geeks would also no doubt be impressed by CL’s Triforce earrings. I know I was.

 2NE1 SCREAM screencap01 2NE1 SCREAM screencap 02

Aside from the costumes, the MV is otherwise a bore as the girls do little more than walk and bounce around. Or in CL’s case, lounge on a throne in a leather ball gown. Everything fits together in a nice little package, however, and the visuals certainly do match up with the feel of the song. It’s miles behind what the girls achieved with 내가 제일 나가 [I Am the Best] but decent enough.

The b-side to this single is Fire, a Japanese version of 2NE1’s debut Korean track. This song defined 2NE1’s fierce sound that set them apart in the industry and this song still works just as well in Japanese. While it’s disappointing  no other original track was included on the single, this remake completes Scream well due to their similar feel. Considering the girls also just released an album of Japanese versions of their Korean hits, I don’t think it would have killed them to make another original track to include on this single. But oh well.

[MINI-ALBUM] CNBLUE – Ear Fun

No one can say CNBLUE are not consistent; their sound is well-established to the point all tracks on the mini-album are fundamentally the same.

I only came across CNBLUE’s music when I saw them live at the Sydney Kpop Music Festival back in November 2011 and was very impressed with the performance they put on. When Ear Fun was released I thought I’d give it a listen to see if they were just as captivating on CD as they were live.  Contrary to what the ridiculous title suggested, Ear Fun only proved to be temporary fun for my ears as none of the tracks stayed with me after I finished listening.

CNBLUE - Ear Fun

I should preface I am a hard rock and metal lover from way back and it goes without saying that, despite my love for pop, soft rock is not something I particularly enjoy. As most of my days are now spent enjoying upbeat pop with intricate choreography a part of me does tingle with excitement when I see a group holding instruments. CNBLUE certainly have caught my attention and, despite my minimal interest in soft rock, I do appreciate their music more than label mate FT Island who sound painfully like something out of the 1960s.

 

When 아직 사랑한다 [Still In Love] was released prior to the official drop I didn’t hold particular high expectations for the mini-album. While the track has a nice beat and has me tapping my fingers on the table, there is nothing about the song that grabs me; the MV is boring, depicting the boys in a recording studio, and while Yonghwa has a great voice, I found the vocals to be a little flat. The song itself is not bad but is something I would prefer to listen to in the background than actively bop along to.

Title track Hey You, released with an MV on March 25, is more dynamic than 아직 사랑한다 [Still In Love]. Hey You is quite mellow but still contains CNBLUE’s trademark boppy tune and is certainly catchy enough to stick in one’s head. The MV is also notably more inspired than the previously released track and probably about as interesting MVs of this genre get. With the vocal spotlight shared out with fellow band mates, Hey You has a distinct flavour and diversity compared to other tracks on the mini-album. But this still doesn’t make it great.

Following on from the two promotional tracks is Dream Boy. Dream Boy is the most light-hearted song on the mini-album, boasting a softer, fluffier melody. It has a very generic sound and really does seem like something I have heard before, but as far as I can tell it hasn’t been released prior to Ear Fun (please correct me if I’m wrong!). In any case, I don’t find this track to be anything particularly special. It’s nice to listen to, but that’s about it.

The latter half of Ear Fun is definitely the highlight and swiftly moves into the fun track Rock n Roll, an aptly named song that contains a great retro rock ‘n’ roll feel. The song is a hit right from the opening guitar rift through to the bouncy vocals and funky chorus. This track really makes me want to hit the floor and jive, which is of course a good thing. Following directly on from this catchy song is Run, which builds steadily into yet another catchy chorus and highlights the power in Yonghwa’s vocal chords. The lengthy guitar solo is also what one would expect of this genre of music.

In addition to Run and Rock n Roll, In My Head is probably the best track on the album. Despite being a Korean remake of popular Japanese 2011 single of the same name, In My Head is a great song which fits in well with the rest of the mini-album. If anything no one can say CNBLUE are not consistent; their sound is well-established to the point all tracks on the mini-album are fundamentally the same. Each track is equally as catchy with mellow guitar riffs, smooth vocals and steady beat. In My Head is the standout, however, showcasing husky and powerful vocals in the chorus and is certainly my favourite.

Fans of CNBLUE will no doubt be satisfied with this solid little mini-album; all tracks are good and none are profoundly boring. My main qualm is the overwhelming sensation of sameness I am left with at completion of Ear Fun.  While CNBLUE are a nice change from the electronic-heavy pop I usually review, they are certainly a group I prefer to admire live on stage than through the headphones of my iPod.

[REPACKAGE] MBLAQ – BLAQ%Ver.

Even though the smorgasbord of genres on 100%Ver. turned out to be very hit and miss, BLAQ%Ver. seems to have taken it one step further.

MBLAQ certainly have been busy little boys, hitting us with a repackage of their most recent mini-album 100%Ver. The new edition—uncreatively titled Blaq%Ver—features two new tracks and an intro/theme song of the same name. MBLAQ usually have an interesting assortment of sounds and so I was looking forward to this repackage. Well, interesting is certainly one way to describe it.

MBLAQ - BLAQ%Ver.

Considering the broad spectrum of genres MBLAQ covered in the original 100%Ver. it would be easy to assume the boys got their experimenting out of the way and settled down with the repackage. This was not to be the case and the ever surprising MBLAQ have once again brought a new selection of sounds to the table. Even though the smorgasbord of genres on 100%Ver. turned out to be very hit and miss, BLAQ%Ver. seems to have taken it one step further. The three new tracks proffer yet another direction for MBLAQ’s music making it very hard to predict what their feature endeavours will entail.

I honestly cannot believe MBLAQ added an intro track after it had been delightfully omitted from the original release. Disappointment aside, BLAQ% (the song) is not as bad as it is a waste of space. It does at the very least set the electronic tone for following track 100%, which is—surprise, surprise—very unlike anything MBLAQ has released previously. Its soft electronic beat makes me feel like I’m back in a school disco during the 90s and I don’t mean this in a bad way. It’s fun, it’s funky but probably not a song you’d enjoy listening to on its own. The greatest pitfall of this track, however, is the excessive use of auto tune and even though it fits the techno-electronic feel of the song, it still ruins the overall vocals. Much like Run, which only obtained awesome status when combined with choreography and MBLAQ’s overwhelming stage presence, 100% would be a great song to see live. This makes J.Tune Camp’s decision to can promotions at the last moment all the more disappointing[1]. The company, however, deserves props for putting their money makers’ health and wellbeing first by allowing them to take a rest. Respect, J.Tune Camp. Respect.

The last of the new tracks, 사랑이 온다 (Beautiful), is much along the same line as Hello My Ex and 아찔한 그녀 only slightly better. While not as catchy or upbeat as Hello My Ex, it is quite a nice tune and a good balance for 100%; where the vocals were brutalised in 100% by auto tune, they are showcased wonderfully in 사랑이 온다 (Beautiful).

MBLAQ have certainly diversified their genre portfolio by once again adding yet another different sound to the already mismatched 100%Ver. Although both 100% and 사랑이 온다 (Beautiful) are decent, solid tracks they are still outshone by 전쟁이야 [This is War] and Run. If you’re strapped for cash or not a diehard A+ you could easily give this repackage a miss.

You can check out my original review of 100%Ver. here: [MINI-ALBUM] MBLAQ – 100% Ver.

[MINI-ALBUM] SHINee – Sherlock

While I’m sure some people will defend Sherlock as genius it strikes me as being painfully lazy.

I gave up expecting anything of SM Entertainment a while ago but a momentary lapse in concentration allowed me to form some degree of anticipation for SHINee’s new mini-album. Maybe it was due to the nineteen month break between Korean releases; or perhaps it was spawned from my indecent love of Jonghyun. Whatever the case I found myself sitting up at 2am AEST just to listen to Sherlock the moment it hit midnight on the 19th in Korea. Should I have done that? I’m starting to think no.

SHINee - Sherlock

Many internet dwellers are familiar with 2am—I myself am no stranger to it having been (in addition to an internet junkie) a University student for the past four years. Still, I find it a horrid hour when your eyes start to burn and a sort of nausea develops in your gut from sleep deprivation. But I endured just to get my hands on a copy of Sherlock as soon as humanly possible. With SM Entertainment having declared Sherlock an ‘experimental pop’ creation featuring the hybridization of many genres, I couldn’t help but be excited. Could it be? SM is actually going to attempt something new instead of following up with a carbon-copy of a previously successful single? Evidently only Super Junior is reserved for that level of management.

But Sherlock does not seem to be any form of ground-breaking production; the only abnormality I can detect is the haphazard fusion of Clue and Note in order to create Sherlock. The title track is perhaps the only song on the mini-album that fits the parameters SM established for itself: the overall sound is somewhere between a bass-heavy dance track and an upbeat climatic chorus from some overly spirited stage production. In this regards, SM Entertainment have definitely succeeded in creating a musical hybrid; however the concept is all downhill from there.

I can’t bring myself to appreciate Clue and Note as, following on from Sherlock, I feel as though I’m listening to the same song three times and can’t actually distinguish between them. When it was announced Sherlock was to be comprised of tracks Clue and Note I didn’t expect it to be such a blatant melding of the two. It really sounds as if Note has been slapped over the top of Clue and relabelled Sherlock. While I’m sure some people will defend this as genius—SM of course and presumably many Shawols—it strikes me as being painfully lazy. Did they honestly think it a good idea to include three tracks which are essentially the same on a mini-album? Unsurprisingly, there is no reason to listen to all three songs—just pick the one you like best and be satisfied with that.

Brace yourselves: I’m about to give praise to a ballad. Two, in fact. Mellow tracks The Reason and그자리에 (Honesty) are perhaps the greatest indication of SHINee’s growth during their time away. Maknae Taemin’s voice has matured dramatically—most notable in그자리에 (Honesty)—and as always Jonghyun and Onew are a pleasure to listen to. The Reason is delightfully haunting and the chilled guitar backing of그자리에 (Honesty) makes it easy to appreciate the talents of their vocals and this in itself renders the track a success. As rare as it is for me to say this, these are two very emotional and solid ballads and SHINee and SM deserve some praise.

I love 낯선자 (Stranger); so much so I wish it were the title track instead of Sherlock. It’s poppy, edgy and decisively SHINee—and would have had some killer choreography, too. But it’s such a shame it’s just a Korean remake of a track with the same name from their Japanese album The First. I really am puzzled as to why SM did this especially considering The First gained its own Korean release back on February 29. This really just adds to the overwhelming lazy vibe resonating from the majority of the album and this is not the impression you want give listeners after a hiatus in excess of twelve months.

This leaves 알람시계 (Alarm Clock), with which I’m not overly taken. This was one of a couple of songs composed by the members with this particular number being the handiwork of Jonghyun and Minho. Jonghyun also wrote the lyrics to 그자리에 (Honesty)—know in English as Always There (Honesty)—especially for their fans. In the case of 알람시계 (Alarm Clock) the music itself never climaxes and the pinnacle of the song is only highlighted by Jonghyun’s usual wailing in the background. For me, 알람시계 (Alarm Clock) is the most boring track on the album, even taking into account the two ballads. How the hell did that happen?

Now all tracks have been released in full all we can do is await the unveiling of the MV (which I assume to be the 21st alongside the album hardcopy) and judge the stage comeback. The choreography in the teaser looks amazing—to be expected of Tony Testa—and stylistically looks quite dark, which is a step away from the usual rainbow-vomit SHINee we’re all used to. I still have a little excitement left in me for the MV but given the overall laziness of which the album reeks I will be legitimately surprised if the full video is filmed outside SM Entertainment’s trademark box.

Don’t you let me down now, SM.