[Mini-Album] Big Bang – Alive

An album made with too much hype, too much expectation and too much angst.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Big Bang’s new album ever since T.O.P’s ridiculous teaser depicting him as a hospitalised leather daddy surfaced on the internet. Not because I’m a particularly huge fan of Big Bang—I would hardly describe myself as anything remotely resembling a VIP—but due to the hype surrounding their long-awaited comeback.

The first thing I did this morning was get my hands on a copy of this hot little mini-album. I avoided YG Entertainment’s stream of teaser audio clips so I could fully appreciate the tracks the moment the album dropped. Perhaps had I spoiled myself with the previews I might have been saved by the overwhelming disappointment I was faced with after completing my first play-through. I thought Blue was going to be the only downside to the album; however it just appeared to be another notch in a series of mellow soft-pop tracks creating an album made with too much hype, too much expectation and too much angst.

I’ve previously expressed how irked I am by introductory tracks and INTRO (ALIVE) is no exception. It’s a superfluous inclusion which offers nothing the album title doesn’t already provide. We get it, Big Bang: you’re still alive. Even if it doesn’t seem like it with this album.

I first want to talk about Blue. This track was released with an accompanying MV prior to the official album drop on February 29—I see what you did there, YG—and is, to be frank, a disappointment. Whoever’s decision it was to promote an upcoming album with a yawn-inducing ballad should seriously rethink their career in the music industry. While VIP will defend Blue’s emotional depth and beauty until they pass out from lack of oxygen to the brain, the fact remains the song is boring and not the best choice for instilling excitement within the average Kpop consumer. And this is not just a stab at Big Bang or YG Entertainment: I question the decisions of all labels that drop a ballad as the first taste of a new album. MBLAQ, I’m looking at you.

When I saw Bad Boy was released with an MV alongside the album I assumed this track to be the trump card, something powerful to compensate for the gentle and depressing Blue. But once again Big Bang betrayed my expectations. While Bad Boy is not the yawn-fest that is Blue, it presents itself in a very similar manner and severely damages the depth of the album. 사랑먼지[Love Dust] and 재미없어[Ain’t No Fun] are just as bland. While slightly more upbeat than the previously discussed tracks, they are still cut in much the same fashion and do not inspire me to continue listening outside the requirements of this review. 재미없어[Ain’t No Fun] is exactly as the title suggests—no fun. The vocals are flat and the rap devoid of attitude, passion and personality, which seems a common theme throughout Alive.

FANTASTIC BABY is the one saving grace of this mini-album. It’s fun, funky and damn ridiculous. It’s very much out of place amongst the other tracks and this might make it stand out more than it should. Regardless, this is the best track on the album purely for its disco-like shuffle beat and fabulous lyric boom shakalaka.  It’s a refreshingly boppy dance track and the only real indication that Big Bang is in fact Alive.

Finally, this brings me to Daesung’s solo endeavour 날개[Wings]. I’m not sure why they used the limited track space on such an anticipated release by shortening group activities to make space for a solo but in this case it was not a bad move. 날개[Wings] is the second and final little gem buried amongst an overwhelming pile of dirt. With his vocals arguably his best feature, Daesung certainly showcases his beautiful talent with a track that actually has some notion of tonal depth. 날개[Wings] and FANTASTIC BABY are the only songs containing energy and consequently the only ones which stand out. Needless to say, it’s a little depressing for Big Bang as a group when a solo outshines the group projects.

Alive is an over-pumped, over-anticipated disappointment. Having been out of the industry for quite some time (and in the spot-light for all the wrong reasons) I expected them to come back with a little more punch. Instead I was provided with a remorseful pile of angst, with members expressing their Blues and apologising for their Bad Boy ways. It’s a nice sentiment but not something around which a whole album should be based.

Big Bang, you can do better.

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[MV] Block B – Nanrina

As you stick this song on repeat and rock out  while you’re getting ready for class or work or however else you choose to fill your days you will be thinking—my god I hate this song.

I made a resolution a while back to check out some of the relatively new groups floating about instead of just pandering to the already swollen fanbase of some for the more well-known groups. With this in mind I decided to check out Block B’s new MV Nanrina. I almost wish I hadn’t.

It’s always refreshing to see an MV open with an ultimately unrelated piece of drama because it’s so rare nowadays. We see one member staring perplexedly at the words 7.30 graphitised on a wall and another nonchalantly knocking back some strange concoction while ignoring a woman being hassled behind him. I hoped this signalled the beginning of a dramatic and gripping MV. It did not.

The moment the music kicked in I knew this was going to be one of those songs about which I regretted being curious. It was bad enough whenever I saw the title I was reminded of the Chronicles of Narnia but now I simply cannot get this damn song out of my head. It follows me around like a storm cloud follows an emo. And that just isn’t good.

There really isn’t a lot to be said about the song itself: repetitive but energetic pretty much sums it up. The music seems to never vary and being unable to speak Korean I of course cannot comment on the lyrics and I do not have it in me to look up a translation. I’m a little amused one of the unsurprisingly inserted English lines might be I dunno I dunno I dunno but I’m hard, hard. I’m sure it’s hot, but I kind of hope it’s the former. Actually, I really hope it is.

In any case, the song itself is nothing inspiring: it is repetitive to the point of being irritating and achieves no form of musical climax. That is to say, it’s not particularly interesting. Regardless, the more you listen to Nanrina, the more you will find yourself wanting to listen to it. And that is not because it’s any great musical masterpiece—more due to the fact that you just can’t get it out of your head. That chorus will leave your ears bleeding for more. But even as you stick this song on repeat and rock out while you’re getting ready for class or work or however else you choose to fill your days you will be thinking—my god I hate this song. I know I was.

The video is no more interesting than the song itself. Despite the attempt at drama aroused by the ominous ‘Team Black Dragon’ and ‘Team Red Tiger’ left lingering across the screen at the video’s opening it does not aspire to much more than delinquents strutting through various backdrops and dancing around on rooftops like primitive beings. Presumably Black Dragon and Red Tiger are the opposing gangs that inevitably take time out from the music video to beat the crap out of each other but that is no more interesting than the alternate shots of kids bouncing around on couches flailing fists at the camera.

For me, the choreography was the highlight, and possibly not for the reason it should be. While I don’t mean to criticize whatever dancing talent Block B may possess, the choreography for this track resembled some form of aggressive animal attempting to provoke onlookers into battle. It really is no wonder the term Gorilla Dance has taken off around the internet.

Despite having ripped this video to shreds, there is something about this song I cannot drag myself away from. I don’t hate the song. Well, actually, I kind of do; I want to groan whenever I hear that bass line start up but I can’t seem to anything but dip my head like a badass along to the beat. Because with that infernal chorus and choreography akin to a gorilla trying to master flight, Nanrina refuses to be forgotten.

Unfortunately.

That Scandalous Belly Fat

The only thing I found particularly offensive about the article posted on allkpop was the outfit Lee Hyori was wearing.

Well all get it: the Korean music industry is shallow. Their obsession with youth, beauty and plastic surgery is perhaps a reason why this powerhouse just keeps on getting stronger. Everyone knows sex sells and the best way to sell it is by making it as lean and clean as possible. By being a fan of this genre I assume we all understood and accepted this. Apparently not.

Recently it was reported by allkpop¹ that netizens, God bless them, are up in arms in disappointment over Lee Hyori’s unsightly belly fat. Heaven forbid a woman in her thirties has the slightest bit of loose skin when sitting down. Yes, this is pedantic and the netizens concerned with this really do need to leave their own houses once in a while; however, the shallowness of the industry and its consumers are not part of the issue here. What I speak about is the continual plethora of comments replying to articles such as these jumping to the idol’s defence and complaining about the harsh expectation of netizens. While I personally find it horrifying some people consider Lee Hyori to have belly fat, ranting about the high standards placed on the physical appearance of idols is so worn out it’s become painful to read about. I’m sick of hearing ‘news’ regarding disgust with an idol’s image. More specifically, I’m sick of hearing about netizens who are disgusted with the disgust over an idol’s physical appearance.

Netizens’ obsession with their idols’ youth and beauty is the direct result of the image Hallyu has created for itself. They are no less to blame for their superficial expectations than the companies for producing it in the first place. The vicious cycle between the fans’ expectations and Korea’s infatuation with physical perfection will only continue to feed on one another. This is never going to change. While it does seem a little bit pathetic to find there is nothing more going on in the world of Kpop than netizens complaining over Lee Hyori’s stomach, nit-picky comments such as this are to be expected in an industry that prides itself on physical perfection. Fans jumping into these shitstorms to defend their oppars and unnies and slam other netizens or management for their harsh critiques are about as pointless as reporting the sky is in fact still blue. It might not be moral and it might be unduly critical but any fan should know that’s how the music industry—in particular the Korean idol industry—functions. They do not see idols as human beings but instead as commodities they can sell. Just like a box of Cornflakes.

Accepting that netizens are always going to be pissed off about something shallow, the only thing I found particularly offensive about the article posted on allkpop was the outfit Lee Hyori was wearing. That hideous, ill-fitting sack wouldn’t flatter even the youngest, tightest, fittest woman. So please, people, can we focus on that instead and just let the haters hate in silence.

As Lee Hyori² herself stated in her beautifully dismissive comment: what is everyone surprised about? Of course, this is extrapolating her retort into a different context, but we all know how shallow this industry is, so why bother getting upset about it?


¹ Allkpop article: http://www.allkpop.com/2012/02/lee-hyoris-belly-fat-surprises-netizens

² Second AKP article: http://www.allkpop.com/2012/02/lee-hyori-unfazed-by-belly-fat-criticism

[Single] B.A.P – Warrior

WARRIOR is a fierce display of rookie talent complete with a butt-tonne of BAMF-ery

There is something impressive about a rookie group creating such a stir amongst an imposing cohort of established artists. B.A.P has made a spectacular debut with Warrior and certainly proven to be deserving of my attention. With many groups popping up with teenage boys sporting androgynous flower-boy looks it’s deliciously refreshing see a boy band with balls. Let’s take a look.

01. Burn It Up (Intro)

I’d always thought intros were a waste of precious album space. I still think this. Burn it Up isn’t  an intro as much as it is an unfinished half-track,  presenting itself as a fully-fledged song only to end abruptly. The track itself had potential to stand up alongside the rest of the album but feels as though the producer got lazy and dogged out halfway through. They really should have just completed the song—it would have served as a better introduction to the collection of tracks assembled on the single than this half-arsed piece.

02. Warrior

Ah, what to say about Warrior? Leader Bang kicks off the song with a display of his overwhelmingly deep vocals that had me thinking—how old is this kid again? Warrior is a fierce display of rookie talent complete with a butt-tonne of BAMF-ery. Given B.A.P’s heavy involvement in the hip-hop genre it’s no great surprise that the verses are comprised of talented rappers Bang and Zelo interspersed with the typical wailing of the group’s other vocalists. The vocals are all solid, with Zelo especially being commended for his machine-gun rap in the second verse. The downside to this powerful song is the use of banal hip-hop English phrases such as what’s the name of the game and my personal favourite bow wow wow wow wow. Yes, that is quite a treat. While I can’t speak for the Korean lyrics, these lines have me face-palming something chronic.

03. Unbreakable

Unbreakable has a noticeably different feel straight from the opening seconds and is in great contrast to Warrior. While rap verses are once again a feature, the stand out of this track is the vocal efforts of remaining members Him Chan, Dae Hyun, Young Jae and Jong Up. Despite its initial ballad appearance, Unbreakable packs a surprising amount of punch with a deceptively catchy chorus bound to get stuck in your head.

04. 비밀연애 (feat. Song Ji Eun of SECRET) [Secret Love]

Well, I can’t say I have a lot to write about Secret Love. I was disappointed and pissed off the moment the track started with that mellow RnB-esque droll. While Song Ji Eun’s soft vocals compliment the gruffness of B.A.P the overall feel of the song is dull, saved only momentarily by Zelo’s solo. Secret Love provides a disappointing end to an otherwise amazing debut album. What makes this song worse, however, is TS Entertainment’s decision to use it as B.A.P’s follow up promotion. What were they thinking?

Overall, this album kicks arse. TS Entertainment deserves a round of applause for producing a rookie group with a fierce debut instead of falling for the overused trap of catering to the vast number of pedonoonas. The one weakness of Warrior is that it has perhaps set the bar too high: producing a following release to top this little gem will take a lot of work. But this should be more than achievable with TS Entertainment’s small roster as they shouldn’t struggle to find time to devote to this project.

I eagerly await their next release.

[mini-album] MISS A – Touch

As a whole, nothing is particularly memorable and despite the several repeats I endured for the purpose of this review, not one track remains with me.

I’m not overly familiar with miss A’s catalogue and this is the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to one of their albums in entirety. I wasn’t particularly fond of the girls until I saw them live and became momentarily enlightened—they have a great image and strong stage presence, and in general their performance was fun and energetic. As there has been a lot of talk about TOUCH around the internet, I thought I’d give it a listen.

Looking at the cover seeing the girls spread out in the floor in dark, sexy makeup and tight little black dresses, I initially expected a fierce collection of songs. I was, however, disappointed.

Here is the track breakdown.

01. Touch

The opening of Touch really doesn’t know what it’s doing—the alternating chimes and electronic drums create an interesting juxtaposition which is deadened when the track opens up. The tempo is a little slower than anticipated and lacks the power one would expect of a title track. It seems to float through to completion without ever reaching any form of climax along the way. The vocals are great and no doubt the choreography spectacular but the song is bland and ultimately forgettable.

02. Lips

Lips sets its sexy tone right from the get-go and is perhaps the only track which befits the image on the album jacket. It has the feel of 90s club music, which gains kudos purely for the nostalgia factor, and this had me almost wanting to get up and dance. The track approaches what one expects of the album but inevitably falls short by once again being unmemorable.

03. Rock n Rule

When I saw the title for this song I was hoping for something fierce and powerful. Unfortunately for me the song turned out fluffier than the title promised. Rock n Rule is a bit of fun with a nice upbeat feel and will provide some listeners with cheer and optimism with its bouncy tune and light vocals; I, however, find it generally uninspiring to the point of being irritating. Usually the more I listen to a song, the more like it, but in the case of Rock n Rule, the more I listened the more I hated.  It’s catchy, but not catchy enough.

04. No Mercy

I have to say I was a little excited by the funky bass-heavy opening but this fell flat when the song chilled out in a similar manner to Touch. It failed to inspire me to do little more than bop my head along to the beat, which is disappointing of any pop song. Like previous tracks, it is almost impossible to recall any lyrics or melody of No Mercy once the song has ended. And I listened to this song many times. Many, many times.

05. Over U

This is possibly the best track on the album. Although Over U doesn’t sound particularly different to the other tracks—there is a very distinct flavour running throughout the entire compilation—Jia’s powerful and sexy rap segment makes it a highlight. The rap adds an attitude that is clearly lacking across the other tracks making it all the more engaging. The repetitive chorus is a catchy hook bound to get stuck in listeners’ heads but also threatens to drive them insane.

06. Touch (Newport mix)

I was intrigued by this track from the moment the piano sounded in the introduction. I’m not a great lover of ballads but this sound suits the feel of Touch and this mix seems a more appropriate composition than the original. The vocals are haunting against the mellow piano backing and this automatically creates a more powerful impact than the one presented at the opening of the album. I was pleasantly surprised with this as remixes and alternate versions of songs tend to be overly electronic, ravaged by auto-tune and generally painful to listen to. This song brings out a refreshingly elegant side of miss A and overall, Touch (Newport mix) is a more memorable track which should have seen Touch the original scrapped all together.

This mini-album is quite cohesive: everything has a very discernable ‘miss A’ sound and a common feel underpinning each of the tracks. That’s not to say all the songs sound the same. Well, maybe it does. The album lacks depth and each song seems to be a progression of the next. With each track pumping a similar tempo (exclusive of Rock n Rule, but that pop-based melody fails in containing any hook to catch listeners for more than one play-through) it is hard for any one song to leave a resounding impression. As a whole, nothing is particularly memorable and despite the several repeats I endured for the purpose of this review, not one track remains with me.

If you’re a of miss A then I doubt you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re new and looking to get in on the hype then this probably isn’t what you’re looking for. With the exception of Over U and the surprisingly stunning Touch (Newport Mix) there is nothing quite strong enough to drag in the new listener.

Because I have nothing better to do than listen to music and write shit about it

Hello all,

This is a blog for those wanting an upfront and perhaps a little harsh look of the music coming out of Asia. I’ll be reviewing albums, singles, mini-albums and music videos, and perhaps even offering some commentary on other goings on within the industry.

If you’re someone who thinks your oppars and unnies are flawless and everything they produce is a shiny, perfect rainbow, then perhaps you should not read this blog. I will be ranting, raving and tearing apart everything, even my favourite groups.

Why? Because it’s fun.

And no one is perfect and even your favourite idols will produce shit. Probably more often than you want to admit.

In any case, I will updating when I feel like, starting with the backlog of albums etc I have at my disposal, interspersing with anything new that takes my fancy.

If you have something you’d like me to tear apart, please email me at:

theasianpopreview@gmail.com

I’ll do my best to fulfill all requests as I’m always looking for something to rant about.

But then again, I may not.

Enjoy.