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 …

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?

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.

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