[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.

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[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.

[SINGLE] 東方神起/TVXQ – Still

I feel like grabbing a blanket and snuggling down on the couch in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate.

As soon as I saw 東方神起’s new single Still was a ballad I dreaded having to write a review for it. Luckily for me, the song didn’t turn out anywhere near as painful as I feared and I’d almost go as far as to say I like it. If I were having trouble sleeping on a cold night I would gladly have Still on repeat in order to put me to sleep. And I mean this in a good way. No, really.

東方神起 - STILL

東方神起 really like ballads, huh? It’s such a shame I don’t. As previously mentioned I do, however, have slightly more tolerance for Japanese ballads for whatever unjustifiable reason. There’s something about Still I can’t quite hate and despite its slow tempo it’s not particularly boring; instead of nodding off I am overcome by feelings of comfort and warmth. There is also something decisively Christmassy about it—I feel like grabbing a blanket and snuggling down on the couch in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate.

  東方神起 - STILL screen cap 02  東方神起 - STILL screen cap 01

Much to my grievance the video is fluffy as hell and I can’t stop watching it because of all the warm fuzzies it fills me with. Although the boys do nothing more but wander around and stare emotively at the camera, Changmin and Yunho are looking more than fine. 東方神起 have always, in my opinion, produced the highest quality J-Pop compared to other attempts made by fellow Korean groups and this is certainly reflected by their popularity abroad. While Still may not be anything outstanding the warmth that pours from the very depths of this track is bound to make it endearing to many. Even me.

One would assume that the B-side of a ballad single would in fact be more uplifting but this was not to be the case with 東方神起’s latest release. One More Thing carries on from where Still ended limiting the breadth of the single. It has a little more bounce to it but lacks the undeniable fuzz-factor of the title track. One More Thing is not a bad song, but not a great one either and probably won’t be earning a space in my playlist anytime soon.

The single is rounded out by One More Thing -SAKURA Version-, Still -Less Vocal- and One More Thing -SAKURA Version Less Vocal-.While this brings the total track count up to five, these varying versions are nothing more than a cheap way to bulk out the track list. Oh SM (or Avex in this case), why so tight on the budget?

Some things never change, I guess.

[SINGLE] NU’EST – Face

I haven’t been this gender confused since my Visual Kei days.

It’s taken two months but Pledis Entertainment has finally released NU’EST out into the hoards of anticipating Hallyu connoisseurs. Being the first male group to appear on Pledis’ roster NU’EST has been watched with keen interest. With diverse visuals and a fresh new sound they surely won’t disappoint. Hopefully.

NU'EST - Face

NU’EST do look nice, don’t they? Brand-spanking new, straight from the Pledis oven—or their mother’s wombs, which is perhaps more accurate given their ages. Regardless, they have been well presented with a deceptively mature edge. Leader JR has a wonderfully fierce stare and maknae Ren is perhaps the most androgynous creature I have come across in K-Pop. I haven’t been this gender confused since my Visual Kei days, let me tell you. With such visual diversity NU’EST delicately straddle the divide between pretty flower boys and fierce badasses. This in itself has its own appeal.

Moving on to the music and it’s no great surprise that a debut single contains an intro track. Nu, Establish, Style, Tempo is taken from the words for which acronym NU’EST stands: New Established Style and Tempo. This intro, however, is a little misleading. Nu, Establish, Style, Tempo is a heavily dubstep-inspired rap piece which presents NU’EST as a hectic techno-pop group, of which they seemingly are not. While it would have been wonderful to see a full dubstep idol group, this sound is not replicated in the singles’ two tracks, aside from a brief inclusion in the Face MV.  I found this to be a little disappointing.

Face sits neatly in between a standard, poppy track and a B.A.P-esque fierce and edgy debut. The song is very catchy and certainly easy to listen to; I picked up on a distinct Europop feel and this made perfect sense when I found out title track Face was provided by Swedish composer Daniel Bergman. The melody suits the vocalists well and the rap interludes provides the edge suggested by NU’EST members’ visuals. The MV is decent (though I don’t know why I’m watching high school boys beat the crap out of each other) and choreography crisp; however, I wish Pledis Entertainment had elected to omit the dubstep dance break from the CD version of Face as it was severely out of place with the generally mellow tempo.

With a techno-pop based title track it only makes sense that the B-side is a little more reserved. I’m Sorry has a thick R&B feel and quite removed from run-of-the-mill soppy pop ballads. The vocals are smooth and well-polished for a debut single and the minimal use of autotune is always a blessing.  There is certainly talent amongst these sixteen- to eighteen-year-old rookies.

After a clean pre-debut campaign that leaves  EXO and SM Entertainment[1] looking like mismanaged fools, NU’EST have made a successful appearance on the K-Pop stage. While Face might lack the punch many expected, it is still an admirable effort and Pledis Entertainment should be proud of their first boy group. We can only assume they will gain strength as they continue to grow and develop.


[1] See this previous post for my in-depth thoughts on EXO.

Concept? SHINee does not have it.

With all these mismatched clues I doubt even Sherlock Holmes himself could piece together this mystery.

When eighteen months elapsed since the last Korean release of Lucifer back in July 2010, Shawols began itching for something new. On March 8 2012 a new teaser indicating the release of fourth mini-album Sherlock spread across the internet.  Now that all five teasers have surfaced—including a group shot—I really do have to question what was going through SM Entertainment’s mind.

SHINee Sherlock

Due to the ridiculous anticipation surrounding SHINee’s comeback SM Entertainment could have released utter rubbish and Shawols would still be flailing left, right and centre. Clearly, that’s what SM elected to do. Speculation around the internet has labelled SHINee’s teaser concept as anywhere from ‘pretty French artsy boys’ to ‘cheap 70s porn’ but no one seems to come up with an accurate and cohesive idea. To add to the confusion, the latest teaser image featuring all five members illustrates a group of vagabonds in rainbow crochet. Shawols and netizens alike simply have no idea what SHINee are trying to be and with all these mismatched clues I doubt even Sherlock Holmes himself could piece together this mystery.

Minho 'SHERLOCK'

Let’s start with Minho, which was by my calculation an awful choice for the initial teaser. With his muscle definition all but melted away (or photoshopped away, by some netizens’ understanding) there is nothing at all sexual or even pretty about Minho’s shoot. What I see is a perverse image of an adolescent on the cusp of manhood entering into a bizarre role play where he has assumed the character of an infant awaiting his mother. This is perhaps thanks to the bottle pressed to his lips but regardless, this image is disturbing. And don’t even get me started on that hair.

Taemin 'SHERLOCK'

Taemin’s teaser had noonas everywhere shouting child porn. Ignoring the fact he turns nineteen this year (twenty by Korea’s reckoning) this image does have a notion of innocence played off against intense sexuality. No doubt Taemin’s appearance is at the heart of many netizens’ concerns: he does have the body of a young adolescent and a face devoid of all aspects of masculinity. That long, lavender hair does not help things at all. Taemin’s collection of teasers is by far the most erotic and the disgusted outcry it was bound to illicit has certainly achieved one very important thing: the K-pop world is now talking about Sherlock.

Onew 'SHERLOCK'

I am not at all surprised Onew bucked the trend of shirtless images. Being the oldest of the group he was one member I was comfortable with seeing half-naked, bested only by Jonghyun, but—of course—shirtless Onew was not to be. Despite his teasers being the most uninspiring of the lot, it’s nice to see him alive and well given his MIA status since New Years’ Eve. Welcome back, Leader.

Key 'SHERLOCK'

I found Key’s teaser to be disappointingly bland considering his status as resident diva amongst the group. Aside from his green hair—which is obviously just a temporary rinse—Key is relatively normal. His shoot, however, does pick up the decadent feel that was lost with Onew’s teasers but is nowhere near as scandalous as Taemin’s or Minho’s. The main point which had Shawols talking was his ‘lip ring’, which to me looks more like glittery herpes than any form of body piercing.

Jonghyun 'SHERLOCK'

Finally it was Jonghyun’s turn and for once SM Entertainment did not disappoint. Well, sort of. Shawols—myself included—were crying out for a shirtless Jonghyun since the noticeable bulking of his muscles at the MBC Gayo Daejun last year. Although we were blessed with nothing more than a taunting nipple, he was at least not wrapped in a blanket like dear Onew. This collection of images, however, are even further removed from a cohesive concept as they are more or less devoid of any theme altogether. With the exception of the last picture, which was obviously cropped from a group photograph, Jonghyun’s images are all headshots showing no setting whatsoever. Obviously SM thought that a little nip-slip was enough to placate Shawols into thinking the images and overall concept was flawless. How wrong they were.

SHINee 'SHERLOCK'

Last and certainly least is the group photograph released yesterday. Let’s pretend for a moment the individual teaser images were inspired by French decadence. If that were the case then how in holy Shisus’ name did they end up looking like a bunch of hippies crammed into the back of a van on their way to Woodstock? I will never have an answer for this. I can only hope the album itself is brilliant to compensate for this wankery. But with SM labelling Sherlock as ‘experimental pop’ I am not holding my breath and instead raising an eyebrow. I am certainly curious, to say the least.

The funny thing about this whole botched concept is SM Entertainment insisting the whole mini-album is inspired by the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. Excuse me, but what?

[ALBUM] KAT-TUN – Chain

KAT-TUN’s voices seem to lend themselves to ballads as they don’t suffer from a distasteful whine which occasionally rears its head in some of their more powerful songs.

Admittedly, my interest in KAT-TUN dropped when Akanishi Jin announced his intentions to go solo, so much so I actually skipped the No More Pain album altogether. But in light of Jin’s failed attempt at a Western album, I thought I’d take a look at what he’d left behind. I was genuinely surprised by what I found.

I really did have low expectations of how KAT-TUN would function after Jin’s departure. Of course, one man does not make a group, but to lose the best vocalist and dancer it did have me concerned as to how well KAT-TUN would function without him. While I cannot speak for No More Pain, I would like to offer my congratulations to KAT-TUN for having completed a rather nice little product. While many fans may miss Jin, he is certainly not missed on this album. With seventeen tracks Chain has a lot on offer; however fans avidly following KAT-TUN may be a little disappointed to find five of these were previously released singles leaving only twelve new tracks to show. Even so, twelve is the average length of a studio album, and even if a further five of these are solos, it is still a generous helping.

It does go without saying that the singles rank amongst the best on Chain. Change Ur World, Ultimate Wheels, White, Run For You, and Birth were all previously released with MVs, followed by Lock On, which was released as the title track of the album. Lock On was a great choice as the title as it is certainly an amazing song and probably my favourite on the album. The sound is powerful, energetic and portrays KAT-TUN as a better-rounded and mature group. I’m not entirely sure what role the robot in the water tank fills in the MV but I’m not one to question these things. The choreography is nothing spectacular but the MV is still worth a look as no one ever looks bad in black suits.

The other singles contain a similar sound which seems indicative of the new style KAT-TUN has cultivated. Their post-Jin sound is edgier, darker and all-round more mature which no doubt reflects the way KAT-TUN and the bulk of their fan base as grown. Birth has a great, upbeat pop sound and is diversified by the inclusion of a sick bass line. I’m not entirely sure about the trumpets and other brass instruments in the background but in general the track has a great feel. The vocals form a nice harmony even if Kamenashi seems a little overpowering in the chorus. Change Ur World has a delicious rock feel emphasised by the powerful intro. Regardless of any personal issues I have with taking shortcuts with the English language, I really like this song. While it seems KAT-TUN have shot their payload on the singles, the album itself is still held to a relative high calibre. A highlight of Change Ur World for me was Koki’s rap, which seems to be depressingly scarce on Chain. In general, I found this to be a bit of a letdown as Koki is certainly one of it not the best rapper amongst the Johnny’s cohort. It is nice to see more of his singing talent, though.

Ultimate Wheels is a good song with a bad MV and even worse title. Honestly, could they have made it any more of an obvious car endorsement? In any case, the song has a theatrical feel made epic by the string accompaniment. I wish I could say the same for the title.  Fortunately though, the only real negative quality to this song is the ridiculous title and consequent inability to listen to it without thinking of cars. Thanks KAT-TUN.

Run for You and White round out the singles featured on the album. Run for You has a horridly catchy chorus and, while the song is not overly boring, it’s generally pretty standard as far as KAT-TUN songs go. Although not as impressive as Ultimate Wheels, Change Ur World and Lock On, it is decent and in tune with KAT-TUN’s new sound.  I have to deduct points for the mismatched techno-remix slopped into the middle of the song and also the over use of autotune. Even though KAT-TUN’s vocal talents are mediocre at best in the scheme of Asian pop, no one is in need of that much digital manipulation.

Although White is weakest amongst the singles it still ranks in the upper half of the album. The rap solo in White is the best on Chain, being quite fast and impressive as always. Koki certainly has an attitude in his voice that only shines through when rapping and it’s a real shame his rap solos were so limited. However, with rap tracks being few and far between it acts as a mean of drawing attention to specific songs, of which White is one.

KAT-TUN - Ultimate Wheels

Chain is an album tastefully devoid of ballads. There are only three soppy tracks—not including the solos—and this makes for a fun album. あの日のように [Ano Hi No You Ni] is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a J-Pop ballad: the vocals are soft and the music pretty and there’s not a lot more that needs to be said. I have to say, though, KAT-TUN’s voices seem to lend themselves to ballads as they don’t suffer from a distasteful whine which occasionally rears its head in some of their more powerful songs. But for some reason, I’ve always hated KAT-TUN ballads. I think the slowest KAT-TUN song I claimed to have liked was Water Dance off the particularly impressive Break the Records album. I know, I know—I hate all pop ballads but the only thing worth nothing about あの日のように [Ano Hi No You Ni] is the rare inclusion of Koki‘s rapping. 歩道橋 [Hodoukyou] also falls into the same category of pretty vocals but without the mildly exciting rap. 儚い指先 [Hakanai Yubisaki] is the highlight of the slower songs as it has a little more energy than its fellow ballads. Regardless of my personal tastes, I can’t fault KAT-TUN’s vocals in these tracks as they certainly present them in the highest quality.

Amongst group tracks on the album Smile for You is the low point as it is a not-so-refreshing return to KAT-TUN’s light and fluffy youth. While some fans may reminisce at this throwback to their original sound, I find that it comes across almost juvenile when compared to the generally more mature feel encompassing Chain. Even so, it’s not an overwhelmingly bad song—it’s just not that good.

This brings me to the three highlights of the album. Nestled in amongst a group of previously released singles One Day is a very boppy and potentially very catch tune. I originally classed it as my favourite non-single track on the album until I came across Solider. Solider is simply a fantastic track. The staccato rhythm to the lyrics in the verse is wonderful and stands out against the rest of the album. The disjointed verses are juxtaposed against a smooth chorus strengthening the overall dynamic of the song. It really is in hot competition with Lock On for the overall crown of best album track but this is something I will need more time to mull over. The one downside to Solider is hidden track Chain of Love embedded in the track making the song seem very long by comparison. I don’t particularly like when bonus tracks are included this way as it means you can’t listen to the songs individually. This can be very troublesome if the first track is bad but luckily this wasn’t the case. Despite being included under the same track time, both Solider and Chain of Love seem to be independent of one another making the transition sound like an ordinary shift between tracks. With Koki’s rap combined with impressively fast vocals in the chorus it does have me asking why the choice was not made to have it included as its own stand-alone track. It’s certainly strong enough to be one.

Finally, all that is left are the solos. Taguchi Junnosuke’s solo Finale is a marked improvement on some of his previous endeavours—I am still haunted by Samurai Love Attack. It’s worth noting Junno himself had a hand in the writing of this track and has produced a decent song with a mature sound. It’s good to see KAT-TUN have reflected their personal growth in their music as well. However, it’s disappointing that the overuse of autotune makes it hard to fully grasp or appreciate Junno’s voice. Nakamaru Yuichi’s solo Step by Step, on the other hand, is a light track which suits his voice very well making it the perfect showcase for his vocals.

I’m horridly disappointed with leader Kamenashi Kazuya. ずっと[Zutto] is a depressingly bland ballad that does absolutely nothing for Kame’s voice. This track serves only to highlight the flaws in his vocal abilities by emphasising the obvious difficulty he has with higher octaves. While he’s probably the best vocalist in KAT-TUN at present (second to Jin during previous albums) I don’t consider him to be anything special as the higher he goes the whiner his voice seems to become. ずっと[Zutto] perhaps would have been something powerful were it not for the inadequacies of Kame’s singing. But this is not the first time Kame to has had a rather terrible solo. With the exception of the brilliant 1582 from Break the Records, Kame hasn’t been given much opporuntiy to impress on his own.

~again, Ueda Tatsuya’s solo, was a pleasant little surprise. I’ve always considered Ueda’s voices to be noticeably weaker than the other members—not in ability but in power. Despite this disadvantage Ueda is more than capable of holding down a solo, as proven previously with Lost.  ~again is one of the better solos on the album, bested only by Taguchi. Dangerous Cat ~Make me Wet~, however, is—to borrow a cliché—a different kettle of fish. I’m not entirely sure what Koki was thinking when he co-composed this track but I can’t say I’m overly surprised. Carrying on from his classy Make U Wet series, Dangerous Cat ~Make me Wet~ compliments Tanaka’s wild, eclectic personality. This track, however, is a disaster. From the dogs barking in the introduction right down to the ridiculous lyrics, Dangerous Cat ~Make me Wet~ in no way competes with the quality of previous solos by the likes of Parasite and Pierrot. Even the rap is a disappointment. By assuming a strange tone to his vocals, Koki loses the personality and flavour he usually exhibits and instead produces something strange. At this point I’m really struggling to decide whose solo I hate more—Koki’s or Kame’s.

Chain is a surprisingly good album that represents a new stage in KAT-TUN’s music. With minimal lowlights and a solid assembly of tracks, KAT-TUN fans would be very pleased with what’s on offer. However with the most impressive tracks comprising of those previously released as singles, fans who bought the earlier releases could be left feeling underwhelmed. Chain does not have one clear-cut, stand-out track and instead provides the listener with a bunch of good songs making it difficult to discern that one great track—if it even exists at all.  Regardless, Chain is a solid album with a lot of promising attributes and is very much a step in the right direction for KAT-TUN.

Perhaps I should go back and listen to No More Pain.

Twenty-three teasers too many: Has SM ruined EXO before their debut?

SM Entertainment has no doubt invested more money in EXO’s teasers than in any one of Super Junior’s MVs from the past three years.

With three years having passed since SM Entertainment added a new group to their roster it’s no wonder they’re excited about welcoming EXO to the world. Since the first video teaser was released via YouTube back on December 21, SM has continued a steady stream of member introductions over the past three months. But what has this prolonged teaser period accomplished?

When a small number of EXO’s members performed for the first time via SBS Gayo Daejun I expected them to make their official debut early in the New Year; however the calendar soon hit March and aside from twenty-three video teasers, two ‘prologue singles’ and a heap of photos, not much has progressed. There is still no indication as to when EXO-M and EXO-K are to make their debut. What’s up with that, SM?

The decision to have a select number of EXO feature in a showcase of SM Entertainment’s talent was a smart move on behalf of the company. By placing them alongside members from the likes of Girls’ Generation, TVXQ, Super Junior, and SHINee guaranteed fans’ attention as a stage involving these well-established groups was bound to draw viewers. But months have passed since New Years and we’re yet to see EXO perform as a complete group and the question still remains: when will we?

The build up for EXO’s debut has been so long it’s now bordering on ridiculous. The time—not to mention the money—used in this campaign must be unprecedented for the label. SM Entertainment has no doubt invested more money in EXO’s teasers than in any one of Super Junior’s MVs from the past three years. This slow but steady release of teasers—almost half of which showcasing golden child Kai—has kept fans eager and no doubt anxious to see what this new group will offer. But with more of the same teasers being released every so often it’s hard to believe any fans are truly excited by each new offering. My interest in EXO has severely dropped over the last few months as anything of substance is yet to be delivered. I have to worry if SM has hyped EXO to the point where there is no way they can live up to everyone’s expectations. Seemingly SM Entertainment has set EXO up for an inevitable fail.

It has reached the point in this pre-debut campaigning that I quite literally groan when I see an update on SM Entertainment’s official YouTube channel with yet another EXO teaser. I actually stopped watching them after the first three or four but went back and looked at all twenty-three just to see what I was missing. Evidently, not much. It’s irritating to be inundated with minute-long videos that show nothing aside from members walking around aimlessly or Kai‘s dance skills. SM are obviously very pleased with the talent they have uncovered (or produced) in Kai but a gifted dancer is hardly anything new for the label—Super Junior’s Eunhyuk and SHINee’s Taemin have been amazing fans for years with their skills. So why the obsession with Kai? I honestly have no idea. The only emotion SM Entertainment has instilled in me in regards to Kai is an irrational dislike born from overexposure.

Looking through SM Town’s channel views it’s evident I’m not the only one who simply got over EXO’s teasers. The first batch of videos pulled around one millions views; the more recent struggled to achieve 300k. This decrease in views despite the continued exposure can only spell something bad for EXO: people simply don’t care so much anymore. Instead of exponentially increasing the hype with each additional tid-bit, SM has pushed it to the extreme, so much so fans are starting to back off out of boredom. And I don’t blame them. After the first five or so teasers, the videos started to get bland. Aside from Kai, Lay and Lu Han, who featured in dance solos, and Tao with his martial arts routine, most of the teasers showed the remaining members aimlessly wandering around through nonsensical dramatic situations. The dramatic teasers rank among the worst of the collection as they really showcase nothing about the members aside from their looks, which in this industry is relative pointless. Of course they are going to be good-looking: they are, after all, Korean idols. It seems to me that SM Entertainment themselves became bored with creating exciting showcases for all twelve EXO members and slacked out with the remaining artists. It doesn’t seem fair but it’s not the first time SM has played favourites and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

EXO’s journey to debut took another irritating turn when SM Entertainment decided to release a ‘prologue single’. I’m not exactly sure what a ‘prologue single’ is, but why not just have an actual debut? In any case, EXO has not one but two of these strange little things, which, in the case of What Is Love, is essentially nothing more than long teaser video. The music video for this single is clearly made of the remnants of many of the teasers (or perhaps it’s the other way around) and only highlight Lu Han and Chen, and D.O and Baek Hyun from EXO-M and EXO-K respectively. I’d hardly class this as a single due to the limited number of members representing the group but rather as a serious teaser for who I assume to be the main vocalists. Musically, What Is Love in parts sounds shockingly similar to TVXQ’s Before U Go and I don’t see how EXO, according to SM, are supposed to ‘lead the world music industry’ with an unoriginal sound.

In any case we can only assume second prologue single History is a more accurate depiction of EXO’s overall sound. It finally features EXO-K and EXO-M as two complete units and shows a fully choreographed MV. The song is pretty decent but has me asking—how much higher can they raise the bar? This song is frustratingly catchy with its ‘oh oh oh’ call that it places a hefty amount of pressure on the debut to surpass this. Sure, it’s possible, but all this build up runs the risk of leaving fans underwhelmed. Regardless, the snippets featured in the other teasers (albeit mostly void of vocals) are very much intriguing and I hope their debut establishes this sound further as it would be great to see an idol group with a heavy techno influence. But I guess we won’t know until SM decides to officially release these boys out into the world, whenever that will be.

Unlike the atmosphere surrounding the initial New Year teasers, I am no longer awaiting EXO’s debut with bated breath. In fact, at this point the only thing SM Entertainment can do to surprise me is actually announce a release date. It’s disappointing how much interest I have lost in EXO’s debut as I like a lot of the bands on SM’s current roster and was looking forward to something new. However, this prolonged pre-debut campaign has been so excessive and overhyped it really has been killed for me. Unfortunately I don’t think I’m alone in that regard. I’d like to hope EXO do eventually have a successful debut before a group of fans who endured the mass of teasers and stuck around through all this wank. All I know is if I see one more damn teaser featuring Kai I will hit something.