[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

[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.

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.