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 …

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[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.

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?