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Friday, April 6, 2012

Speaking of SPICA


Well, that was a terrible pun. I guess that’s what you get for not updating a blog for…4 months?? Jesus. Okay, well, I said in my previous post that I would blog about IU, Tablo, and Rania, but there is a certain rookie girl group that is catching my attention right now, and that group is called SPICA.

Left to right: BoA, Narae, Joohyun, Jiwon (sitting), Bohyung

            Composed of five members, BoA, Narae, Jiwon, Joohyun, and Bohyung, this group is showing some major potential, even though they are only rookies. They debuted with “Russian Roulette,” and they just recently started promoting their follow-up single, “Painkiller.” Both songs can be found on their repackaged mini-album, “Painkiller.”

"Russian Roulette" MV

            First, let’s talk about Russian Roulette. The song begins with a catchy synth riff that instantly gives you a very chill vibe. I love how they used some electric guitar in the verses, and the vocals sound very solid. The verse slowly builds in energy and in the lead-in to the chorus, I can detect some subtle use of timpani, which adds nice depth to the sound. The lead-in ends with a clever and catchy “Bang bang bang bang bang!” The chorus is probably my favorite part of this track. The harmonies are well-crafted and all the voices blend together very nicely. With a driving melody and strong voices, the energy carries through to the end of the chorus, which is again punctuated by a “Bang bang bang bang bang!” I am not usually a fan of rapping in pop songs, and this track is no exception. The lines in the beginning and the middle fit well, I suppose, but I am going to stick to my belief that rapping lines belong in hip-hop and rap, not pop. The bridge of this song is interesting, because although the beginning is not very melodically complex, it does modulate into a major key for a moment, an intriguing twist not often found in pop songs.

"Russian Roulette" [120209] M! Countdown Debut Performance

            The live performance of “Russian Roulette” is spot-on, vocally. After watching several performances, I can say that this group does not need any background vocals or autotune, whatsoever. All five members of this group have the ability to maintain their pitch and breath throughout the song. They especially stand out to me because they harmonize live, and they sing the entirety of the song, unlike other groups (cough, Miss A, cough) who don’t sing the chorus. The choreography does not really require any complex movements since the track is very laid-back. It does, however, require clean lines which I think SPICA lacks sometimes in their synchronization. Their vocals definitely make up for the lack of interesting choreography, and you can tell by the equal line distribution and forgiving choreography that this group is mostly a vocal-based group, unlike Miss A, who is a dance-based group, or 2NE1, who relies a lot on stage presence.

"Painkiller" MV

           “Painkiller” starts with BoA vocalizing over a piano introduction, which immediately sets up the tone of the track: intense, dark, slow tempo (again). I wish they didn’t promote this song right after “Russian Roulette”, which was also intense, dark, and had a slow tempo. To me, this song showcases each of the members’ vocal abilites a lot more, since the instrumental is less interfering and a bit more relaxed, especially with the piano in the background. The strong beat coupled with the powerful vocals is definitely what makes this track filled with energy, though. The verses are actually better than the chorus. The melody lines have a lot of variation, and they don’t just stay in the same few pitches. The chorus is all right, mainly because I like listening to their harmonies. The main part of the chorus is just the words “Killer, killer, killer,”: easy to follow and sing along to, but also easily overplayed. I’m not too sure that this song will remain in my playlist that long, and I’m pretty sure that the “Killer” part will soon become annoying. However, the piano definitely helps with this song’s overall quality. One more part of this track bothers me, though: the ending. The tinny metallic sound is not pleasant at all, and I feel an impulse to immediately skip to the next song when I approach the end of the song.

"Painkiller" [120329] M! Countdown Debut Performance

            Again, their live performances do not feature any complicated choreography, which makes it repetitive and boring to watch, but is advantageous to the group vocally. Without complex motions and exhausting movements, each of the members can focus more on projecting and carrying out the emotions in their voices rather than in their dance. The group needs a little more stage presence, though, because I find myself pausing their videos halfway or straying to another tab with the sound still playing in the background.

            Overall, SPICA is a group with a lot of potential, and I am looking forward to seeing them appear in more interviews, music shows, and variety shows. Each of the members have very strong backgrounds, and I like the fact that the five of them are styled very distinctly. I can easily tell them apart, and it only took me a little while to learn all of their names (compared to knowing only one Apink member, Eunji, and knowing none of the B.A.P members). If you look on Youtube, you can see that SPICA takes pride in their vocal abilities, as they have uploaded many videos of them just singing on their own channel, and they have also sung for several radio shows, performing a different song each time.

Album: 9/10 (Lots of good songs, definitely listen to the whole thing)
Lives: 7/10 (Vocally solid, but boring choreography)
Visuals/Concept: 9/10 (Unique members, nice stage outfits)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Update: Upcoming reviews + things to look forward to

Hi all!

First of all, I must apologize for not writing a review in a while. I've been pretty slammed with schoolwork and college apps (the usual excuses), but as the Christmas break approaches, I'll have a lot more time to write articles and update this blog.

Upcoming reviews will include IU's new album, Rania, and the drama Coffee House. I'm also considering writing an article on Tablo's album, Fever's End, even though it's been out for a while now. Chocolat also came back with a new song, minus a member, so I'll have some things to say about that. Coffee House will be my first drama review, and since I'm currently right in the middle of it (episode 9), I'll be updating my reactions and opinions accordingly.

Winter break means more posts! I'm excited, are you?

Happy Holidays, and good luck with school finals/college applications!

See you all soon,

Monday, November 7, 2011

Girls' Generation still shouldn't rap


I tried very hard to keep an open mind when SNSD started performing their comeback stages, and I have to say that the live performances gave the girls a little boost. I said in my earlier review that the choreography was boring and not very catchy, but after watching their lives I changed my minds. It makes me appreciate all the effort SNSD puts in just to make the choreography look polished. The moves are quite a significant change from their past hits. Their style has shifted into more individual moves during the verses, and then more uniform during the chorus. My favorite part of the choreography is definitely the dance break; I love it when Yuri is at the front and everyone shoots down, extending their left leg.

I also said before that the verses were uninteresting and repetitive. After watching their comeback stages, I don’t mind the verses too much. Even though they stay around the same three or four notes, I enjoy seeing individual members sing their lines. Each singer spices up their lines with unique action.

But even though there are some good parts to the song, the chorus is a huge deal breaker. Is the “new and fresh” concept just an excuse for a poorly written chorus? I’m not sure, but after watching their recent live performances, my conclusion is still the same: SNSD cannot rap. Sure, it shows attitude and individual personalities. Sure, it shows a more mature side of the group. But for me, I firmly believe that all songs should have a definitive and melodic chorus. I won’t go as far as to say that rap isn’t music, because if it’s written well and delivered properly, it can sound pretty good. But as far as “The Boys” goes, the rap chorus does not suit the song very well. If they want to rap, they can rap. They did it in the dance break. (I wanna dance right now!) But stay away from the chorus, please. “The Boys” would have done much better without it.

Live Performance Rating: 8.5/10 (docked off some points just because of the chorus.)

Watch their first comeback stage here:

So, what do you guys think? Tell me in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Girls’ Generation’s new album, The Boys, disappoints


After a long and anticipated wait, SNSD finally releases their new album, titled “The Boys.” With so much hype, I expected this comeback to be huge. I thought to myself, this song is going to be like the next “Genie” or “Gee.” This will be amazing. Guess what? I was sorely disappointed. The concept itself is captivating and beautiful, but the song is sadly underwhelming.

Watch their music video here:
I generally do not enjoy rapping parts in K-pop songs, and one of the reasons I like SNSD is because their songs have very few rap parts. When I watched the teaser, I prayed so hard that the rap part would just be part of the Intro track, or at least be the worst part of the song, like the “I like it like this, I like it like that” in T-ara’s “Roly Poly,” or the dub step in HyunA’s “Bubble Pop.” To my despair, the rap part turned out to be the chorus. Not just part of it, either, but the whole thing, save for a couple of static “Bring the boys out” lines. The chorus should be the focus and drive of the whole song, and it ended up sounding lazy and uncreative.

The chorus is not the only flawed part of the song, however. Although the verses contain an actual melody, they are repetitive and boring. The only parts that vary are at the end of each phrase, where the pitch rises slightly or the rhythm changes a bit. Honestly, though, I would have accepted the verses and the build-up if the chorus was actually good. The build-up makes you anticipate an upbeat and moving chorus, but all you get is a monotone “We bring the boys out” and then a string of rapping. (Ironically, this effect parallels all the hype that led up to this release that eventually ended up falling short of expectations.) Additionally, the tempo is not suited for a rap; the song loses a lot of momentum during the chorus. I kept waiting for a powerful melody and a strong beat, but when I finished the song, my reaction was basically That’s it? There are no memorable parts of the song, except for the (grammatically incorrect) “Girls’ Generation make you feel the heat,” which just shows how disappointing this song is for me.
The choreography is decent, but there are few movements that really stick in my head. The dance break is mediocre; like the song, there is very little variation or energy. Hyoyeon and Yuri are, of course, very talented dancers, but I did not get that impression from the music video. If only the chorus was more exciting, the dance break would have been just fine, since it’s the more powerful part of the song.

Vocally, the song does a poor job of showing variety and musicality in the main singers. Particularly, Jessica’s voice catches my attention; her high note right before the last chorus sounds like she does not have enough support. She needed the help from the backup vocals and audio processing. A lot of people describe her voice as pure and clear, but I disagree. Her voice does have a light feel to it, but there is also a significant amount of buzzing that adds a somewhat sandpaper-ey feel to it, detracting from her overall sound. I’m glad that the producers didn’t process the verses too much, because it really brings out all of their individual voices. However, the high register of the verses makes a lot of the girls sound like they were struggling to maintain their voices at that pitch, although I’m confident that they are capable of doing it.

It is debatable whether or not the lyrics match the song well. The Korean lyrics and the English lyrics have completely different meanings. The Korean version is more about empowerment and encouragement, whereas the English version emphasizes the fact that they have the ability to attract all the boys. Perhaps the rapping makes more sense when you consider the Korean version, but that does not excuse the lack of creativity in the chorus. The dance break takes care the empowerment aspect just fine, with lines like “The boys of the world, I am Athena, the one who gives the number one wisdom. Check this out!” and “Enjoy the excitement of the challenge – you already have everything in this world.” Aside from that, there should a better way to highlight their lyrics with a more exciting chorus. See the lyrics for yourself here.

Hopefully, their comeback stage will make up for most of the flaws in the song. I have a feeling that, although the rapping part is extremely bad, SNSD and SM Entertainment will find a way to make it very popular. Their large fan base is definitely a great help, too, since they appeal to audiences of all ages. SNSD has a lot of stage presence, and since they debuted a while ago, the individuality of the different members stand out. Therefore, they really need to make a big impression on stage, since their song doesn’t give them much to work with. I’m really looking forward to see if they can hold up against the stiff competition.

Since I’m only reviewing one song, I’ll rate the different aspects of it. A follow-up article will include an album rating as a whole, plus a live performance rating.

Song (General): 5.5/10 (The majority is terrible, but there are some decent parts.)
Verses: 7/10 (Standard, not too unique or appealing)
Chorus: 4/10 (Not a fan of the rapping at all)
Choreography: 7/10 (Decent, nothing special)
Visuals/Concept: 8.5/10 (SNSD’s visuals rarely disappoint)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thoughts on Chocolat


From left to right: SoA, Jaeyoon, Tia, Melanie, Juliane
I first heard of Chocolat through Allkpop when they wrote an article about how they were a fresh, new group with biracial members. So, of course, I was intrigued since that probably meant they were English-speaking. The first video I watched was Melanie’s group introduction, and I judged them severely from that video. Oh, they must be all dumb airheads who can’t even sing or dance properly. Turns out, Melanie’s actually only 14, and so is Tia. I probably shouldn’t judge them for being young. So later, when they released their new song and MV, I saw a lot of negative feedback like Too much Tia, I hate the song,  WTF is that dance, etc. However, oddly enough, I found myself following all their performances, and I ended up watching all their videos on their youtube channel.

            Their lives started out horrendously, I must say. There was lip-syncing throughout the whole song and the members were off-pitch a lot of the time. The music-removed versions were terrible to listen to. I thought to myself Why are they even debuting when their vocals are this bad? I don't think they focused on singing as much as dancing when they were trainees and as a result, their vocals suffered. 

            Jaeyoon is the main vocalist with the blond hair, and as I watched her, I realized that she actually possesses a lot of talent. She can sing. Melanie can definitely hit those high notes, too, and she did later on as their performances improved. I think that’s just because of her young voice, though; it’s easy to hit higher notes when your voice isn’t as developed. Tia has more or less the entire package, relative to the other members. Her singing is mediocre, though, and there’s nothing special about her voice. 

            Their song, “Syndrome,” has a catchy tune, albeit with cheesy lyrics and English phrases. There’s something with Korean writers who misuse English in all the songs. The English really bothered me, especially the ending "Never break, break, break my heart *giggle and shrug*." Also, I really dislike all the "Oh yeah's" scattered throughout the song. It feels really unnecessary and just something the producers used to cheapen the song more and attempt to give it a more sexy feel. There is way too much audio processing, and all their voices sound fake and manufactured, but that's also pretty typical of a pop song. Other than those points, though, I feel like the song could showcase a lot of their singing talents, if only they improved more. There are many opportunities within the song to really belt out those high notes, like in Melanie’s and Juliane’s part. Jaeyoon's bridge actually made up a lot of the bad parts for me, especially when she sang it live. You can imagine how much I cursed the music show PD's when they cut it out in later performances. If only their live performances were a lot stronger, I'd have more faith in this group.

 I saw Melanie belt her part live, and it was acceptable, nothing special, but I was more disappointed in Juliane. I don’t think I’ve seen one live performance where Juliane has actually hit her high note clearly and confidently. She attempted it once, I think, and it ended up being more of a half-hearted wail…and then for the rest of the performances, she basically just lip-synced her part. And I strongly disapprove of lip-syncing. In a lot of the videos I watched, many people made excuses for her, saying that since she had a mic taped to her face, belting out the high note would have been too loud. Since Melanie had the handheld microphone she was able to hold it away from her face in order the sing the high note. However, I feel that is a poor excuse for Juliane’s lip-syncing. I know plenty of stars who perform with taped mics who can sing their high notes just fine. Take, for example, Miss A Suzy’s ending in “Goodbye, Baby.” Their choreography requires taped mics, but Suzy was able to belt the high note perfectly each time. The same situation applies to Chocolat, since their choreography needs as much hand movement as possible. However, if Juliane cannot perform her part, I question her role in the group other than being a space-filler and a dancer.

Chocolat also filmed a documentary about their backgrounds and their training during pre-debut days. Although I watched it without subtitles, I realized that just like any other group, they went through long and tiring practices in order to function smoothly as a group. I saw tears, exhausted faces, and many foot blisters. I also realized that Jaeyoon isn’t a dancer, and that she was trained to be a singer. She needed help from both Tia and Melanie to perfect her dance moves. Melanie talks and acts like a little kid, and Tia is the face of the group. Watching the documentary made me realize that they aren’t that bad, and behind all the pretty costumes and makeup, they are real people who went through a lot of struggles.

As Chocolat’s promotions continued, I tried to monitor all their lives, and I am happy to say that they actually are improving. They look more confident, and each member has improved slightly. Their vocals are no longer as pitchy as before. Jaeyoon is more confident when singing her high part, and Melanie’s and Tia’s singing have become stronger and more stable. Juliane has been lip-syncing less, and honestly, SoA’s singing has become smoother as well, even though she doesn’t really stand out for me. Now, I am actually hoping that their next single will be able to showcase their talents more. I never thought I would become a Chocolat fan when I saw their teaser and music video, but after seeing lots of improvement in their live performances, I see lots of potential in the group.

Album: 6/10 (Although well-made, not stellar)
Lives: 6.5/10 (They have a lot to work on)
Visuals/Concept: 6/10 (Typical dance concept, nothing special)

Watch Chocolat’s MV and live performances below:

"Syndrome" M/V

Debut on M! Countdown 8/18/11

Improved performance! Music Core 9/3/11