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

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

 

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

Yes, I’m looking at you, U-KISS.

  U-KISS-Stop-Girl-Wallpaper-u-kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taemin's awful wardrobe in DREAM GIRL

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

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

U-KISS - Neverland Dance

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

And on that note …

[MINI-ALBUM] EXO – MAMA

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

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

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

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

EXO - 'MAMA' Screencap 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s something to get excited for.


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

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.