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Of three recent albums by K-pop big shots (SNSD, 2NE1, and After School, w/ 4minute and Super Junior-M in my to-do pile), After School's is head and shoulders above the rest, once again. I still have no sense of the members' individual musical personalities, if they have any, and not much sense of a collective personality either, sonically. "Smooth vocals with forceful accompaniment" is what I come up with, pretty much, plus occasional strong pangs, the latter more often in Korea than in Japan. In their early days, feisty was good, gentle was bad. Now gentle feels deep, and when the vocals go to what I call "easy vocal washes" the resulting mist is like a sharp shower, rather than blah.

The album (Dress To Kill) is in Japanese, its two singles written and produced by Shinichi Osawa. Listening to Shinichi Osawa's Works 2008-2012, which also tends to go for a smooth front and a propulsive engine, I'm nonetheless thrown back to the feeling of distance I often get from J-pop, without knowing if the distance is mine or theirs. And I say to myself "I don't get it." Whereas After School's Japanese work gets to me every bit as well as their Korean.

adjectives, arbitrary_greay's keybs, Euro-ish songwriters )

(My previous two posts entitled "After School's Good Year" are here: 2013 and 2012.)
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I'm sure there are many more, as well. I'm not claiming these tracks are heavily Afro-Cuban. But they do use one of the clave rhythms:

1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a
X . . X . . X . . . X . X . . .

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And I'm always looking for an excuse to repost this — Bo wasn't Cuban either, but he ran endlessly inventive variants on the beat:

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[For some reason, when I was adding tags, livejournal deleted this entire entry, along with its comments. So I'm reposting. It originally went up January 1st, 2012, 23:54.]

1. T-ara "Lovey-Dovey"
2. Orange Caramel "Lipstick"
3. Trouble Maker "Trouble Maker"

Shinsadong Tiger w/ bodyguard. Co-producer and co-writer of #1, #3, #13, #37

4. ChoColat "I Like It"
5. Dev "Take Her From You"
6. Dev "In My Trunk"
7. Cassie "King Of Hearts"
8. Wonder Girls "Like This"
9. Sistar "Alone"
10. T-ara "Day By Day"
11. Davichi & T-ara "We Were In Love"
12. 2NE1 "Scream." Over at the Singles Jukebox, commenter My cheap on accurately pegs this as "let’s sing about screaming but not scream." But then, 2NE1 aren't the ones to take terror and act afraid of it, are they (as opposed to using it to add frisson to their party)?

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13. 4minute "Volume Up"
14. Flashe "Drop It"
15. After School "Rambling Girls"
16. Taylor Swift "Red"
17. ChoColat ft. Sung Hyo Ram "One More Day" (also called "Same Thing To Her")
18. Orange Caramel "My Sweet Devil"
19. Miss A "Touch"
20. Yoon Jong Shin ft. Kim Wan Sun "I Love You All Days"
Ana Victoria through Nicki Minaj )
Paulina Rubio through Charles Esten & Hayden Panettiere )
Los Mesoneros through After School )
Clazzi through A-Jax )
Jhene Aiko through Ciara )
Knife Party through Cloud Nothings )
Gangkiz through Dawn Richard )
Tony & Smash through Bae Geon-seok )

To reemphasize the demographic points I've been hammering at you during all of my quarter-year writeups: There's only one male singer in my Top 10, the male half of Trouble Maker — the half that moves half-paralyzed in terror as a warm, endearingly emotionally sweet and massively sexy fun girl wraps her arms around him. This is fitting for a time in which male vocalists don't seem to know WTF they should do. The next XY chromosome doesn't show up till a negligible guest shot on ChoColat's "One More Day" down at 17. First vocalist over forty is Kim Wan Sun, the guest singer on "I Love You All Days," number 20. First male voice over forty is Jay-Z's in "Clique," track 27.

Cuteness more authoritative than strength is? )

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Excellent commentary by [livejournal.com profile] arbitrary_greay on "Gangnam Style" and related matters over at the SNSD Free For All. Includes this mashup of "Gangnam Style," "I Am The Best," and "Fantastic Baby," which shouldn't work as well as it does, given how crowded it gets, with all three of them trying to find room on the divan:

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Writeup includes comparisons to "Sexy And I Know It" and "Pon Pon Pon," as well as reaction to the ft. HyunA version.
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The performer speaks easily, giving interviews in English, but careful, too. Not spilling her guts, or spilling the beans, either, should she have any in her big backpocket. She watches a dance rehearsal clip, along with the interviewer, confesses that she hates that it shows her without makeup. She continues speaking, a level tone, describes the effect of YouTube, "Even though music has no language and has the power to break any walls," she says, "YouTube and the Internet have definitely made it easier for people to check our music out and look at our videos." You notice that she's speaking not only in complete sentences, but that she's forming them fully, subordinate clauses and all. "More than I can do, on my feet," you say to yourself. The interview continues, the thoughts steady, though rarely rising above platitudes. She explains that for the fans these days it's not just about listening to and feeling the songs, but about expressing themselves just as the performers do. So the group makes sure that among the dance moves, there are some that are easy enough for the fans to copy.

You yourself track her on YouTube, see her on the reality show, in her own language talking faster but more pensively, posing and answering questions in soliloquy, you watching the subtitles, she wondering if in five years, when the contract is up, would she re-sign. What if the energy isn't there? Her words are fast but the thought comes slow. She doesn't know. Would she have the spirit to start over?

Then the real thing, onstage )
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Not at all clear yet as to what I'm hearing when I listen to the new 2NE1 single. I express my confusion over at the Jukebox. Can't say I'm able to pick out the non-Western sounds the band are talking about in interviews* (trot, enka). Sounds like R&B-based dance-pop to me, but pushed into interestingly disparate melodic sections. But then, I'm not educated in Korean forms. Maybe you can help.

*At allkpop and kpopstarz.
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In a music world shocker, a hidden video camera shows the rapper CL, of well-regarded K-pop group 2NE1, being fed lines by a parrot:

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Here's a list that isn't much different from the previous one, or the one before that, and so on. I don't believe my tastes are narrowing, so I think this says something about the world, too. But it is true, for instance, that I haven't been diving into the tributaries and sidestreams and backwaters of country these days, being so disappointed with what's occupying the main lake that I'm letting the whole genre slide by. What's Willie Nelson doing these days? He's always up to something.

Reiterating previous reiteration )

TOP SINGLES Mid Year 2012:
1. T-ara "Lovey-Dovey"
2. Trouble Maker "Trouble Maker"
3. ChoColat "I Like It"
4. Dev "In My Trunk"
5. Cassie "King Of Hearts"
6. Miss A "Touch"
7. After School "Rambling Girls"
8. 2NE1 "Scream"
9. Davichi & T-ara "We Were In Love"
10. Wonder Girls "Like This." Best of three recent, very interesting rhythm-heavy hits (the other two TaeTiSeo's "Twinkle" and f(x)'s "Electric Shock," all deserving writeups from me); on this one, producer JYP totally commits to using voices as beats. Good for him:

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11 through 43 )

Albums )
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Last year I started a tradition of giving myself until the end of June to post my Artist Of The Year for the previous calendar year. Now I've got only 45 minutes to make good on this. Not that there's been any question for the past 11-and-a-half months whom I'd pick. In "I Am The Best" CL was commanding yet also adorable. And the live version on a Singapore fancam was the most totally, incandescently joyous thing I'd ever seen. Several strolls through (followed by obsessive trawling and retrawling of) the CL/2NE1 YouTube back catalog confirmed and embellished this, the exuberance of a four-year-old's first day at the seashore, feelings on the surface, hurts and happiness, while also the command and composure of a group leader. Strangely, in the little I've seen of her in interviews and on the reality 2NE1 TV, you get the composure but not much else — there are occasional thought-out soliloquies, and some cordial, professional walk-throughs of her life, but for the rest the camera is either shut-off or everything stays behind her eyes. Minzy and Dara do most of the playing and emoting. (I'm saying this on the basis of only three or four episodes, though.) So a portion of the CL I'm voting for is what she created with the help of songwriters and videomakers. But I think it's mostly something in her that responded to what she heard in American hip-hop and R&B, a fierce world of possibility and passion that invited her to whoop it up. I've adored every cover I've seen her perform. When in "Doo Wop" she goes "How you gon' win when you ain't right within" it's vastly more touching than in the Lauryn Hill original; not that Lauryn didn't mean to apply it to herself as well as to the people she was addressing, but in CL you could simply feel someone taking it to heart. And then she gives a great grin and puts the mic right on her tit for "[some guys are only about] that thing."

Please Don't Go )
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While searching "Oscar song meanings," I incidentally found this thread where non-Koreans talk about how they discovered K-pop and why they love it.

"I'm just wondering...... I see many people who aren't Korean listening to Kpop.

"How did you find out and learn about kpop?
"Why do you love it?
"What is your ethnicity/nationality?
"What are your favorite groups and why? What are your favorite songs and why?"
"Do you prefer boy groups over girl groups or both?"


I don't think nationality matters at all because puppies of all countries listen to kpop. A norwegian puppy or a belizean puppy - they all love it! I'm central european, now living in Phnom Penh where local khmer kids dance to kpop in parks. Few nights ago they were swaying their hips to Abracadabra :D
Three people like that the groups don't have to sing about sex, money, and drugs.

Favorite meta, best food reference, most emblematic authenticity argument )
Anyone reading this can answer in the comments, if you'd like, even if you are Korean. How does one define "Non-Korean" anyway? I'd say that I'm non-Ukrainian, non-Belarussian, non-Russian, non-Polish, non-Austrian, nonshtetl, non-European, non-Yiddish, etc., though I could claim all those ethnicities (or whatever) under certain circumstances. By the way, the first-released (though unauthorized) version of "Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)" was not by SNSD but by an Uzbek. Not that Uzbekistan is anywhere near the Ukraine. But it's closer to the Ukraine than to Korea.

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Comment Of The Day:


(Found this on a YouTube comment thread for 4minute's great "Hot Issue." Hadn't realized how popular the track is; was released three years ago and is still getting comments every couple of hours.)
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Q: What do the following have in common: Good Day, Dum Dum Boys, Get Away With Murder, In My Eyes, Try To Follow Me?

A: Damned if I know — other than that they're all song titles, modern (i.e., post-nineteenth-century) popular music.

The question arises because those titles are together on a piece of scrap paper from last week, in my handwriting. What was on my mind? I have no memory of writing this.

I have mp3's of some but not all of these, so I wasn't trying to remind myself that I'd been dicking around with their tags, or needed to.

Performers, if you're interested: IU (아이유), Iggy Pop, Ashlee Simpson, Minor Threat, 2NE1 (투에니원). Robyn does an "In My Eyes" too, but I'm sure I've given it no thought in the last year and a half. The Ashlee song is really entitled "Murder."

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(Video plays even though the still shows blank here)

Your search - "good day" "dum dum boys" "get away with murder" "in my eyes" "try to follow me" - did not match any documents.

Did any of you write about those songs last week?

Also on that piece of scrap paper: my guesses as to who is who in various group photos of SNSD. I've decided it's about time I learned to match name and face for them. So far I'm doing real poorly. They keep changing their damn hairstyles. First photo, I only got Sooyoung, Yuri, Sunny, and Seohyun correct. Next photo I got Tiffany, Yoona, Sunny, Hyoyeon. How did I miss Sooyoung? Third photo, I got Taeyeon, Yoona, Sunny, and Sooyoung. Sunny's the only one I always get instantly.
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A peculiar thing happened over the last eight months, while 2NE1 was being my official favorite band in the world, which is that T-ara became the group I actually listen to most. That's one effect of T-ara being worked like dogs: they're always doing something — songs being performed to death, new versions of songs that are three weeks old, videos, sequels to videos, and on and on. While 2NE1 are calibrating their impact, T-ara are flooding the market.

Pole bearers flee cuteness )

TOP SINGLES First Quarter 2012:

1. T-ara "Lovey-Dovey"
2. Trouble Maker "Trouble Maker"
3. ChoColat "I Like It"
4. Cassie "King Of Hearts"
5. Dev "In My Trunk." Note that at 1:07 there's an actual dope in her trunk:

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6. Miss A "Touch"
7. After School "Rambling Girls"
8. Sunny Hill "The Grasshopper Song"
9. Davichi & T-ara "We Were In Love"
10. Clazzi ft. Koti & Jubi & MYK "Sexy Doll"

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11 through 24 )

Adventure babies ride bathwater to oblivion )
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So far The Voice in 2012 has produced no moments of genius to match Dia Frampton's "Heartless," though "Cinderella" is audacious enough to make me think there's a chance we'll get one. And I've found six standouts that are better than good (and I'm doing this all by YouTube, so my listening hasn't been all-inclusive). Here they are in no particular order:

Wobbly quirks with pebbles and glass thrown in. Lindsey's not yet got the command that a Taylor Swift or a Xenia has to turn her uncertainties into aesthetic bull's eyes, but the wavers and swallowed words fit this performance fine.

Impressed by how both of them have smoldering depths and high fires.

I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man and so is Lola )

Revenge of the Idol reject )

Quirk Rising )

The Quirk Strikes Back )

Now I wanna be your daub )

h/t [livejournal.com profile] just_keep_on
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In ChoColat's "I Like It," 14-year-old Melanie lets loose with a wail of "I want it all, all or nothing," that pierces steel, leaps rooftops, and calls across oceans. Back in their introduction vid last July she was at ease and charming in a normal-girl bubbly way. Seems like a winning combination: camera-ready everyday warmth and a voice that can launch rivers and wring us dry.

ChoColat aren't getting far commercially yet, unfortunately: "Same Thing To Her,"* entered the Gaon chart last week at 83 and immediately took a step back to 132; the previous two singles didn't do much better. Fingers crossed. Strong beats, passionate singing, hot melodies. Yet another set of songs that remind me of freestyle. I know I've been making that comparison so much recently that it's likely losing its impact and meaning. I'll need to give this a post of its own sometime soon, freestyle to K-pop, or at least provide links to try and demonstrate the connection. (For what it's worth, all but one of ChoColat's songs are composed by either Norwegians or Brits, though with some Korean and Korean American input but none from the American East Coast, which is where freestyle originated. By the way, there's a sad story about one of the Korean American songwriters which I'll mention in the comments.)

Race )

*Also called "One More Day."
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An article claimed* that an online community board ran a "Ranking of girl group idols with the best vocal talent" (phrase in quotes in the article), the board claiming (but this not in quotes) that "three professional experts in the music field personally participated."**

Miffed at being excluded, I compiled my own top five:

1. CL
2. Hyomin
3. Melanie
4. Whoever I decide is the most crucial vocalist in 4minute, once I figure out who is who
5. Same for LPG

Expert status justified; yawp extolled )

Other people think they have ideas too )

footnotes )
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Been grumbling a lot about the diarrhea sluice of likes and reblogs on Tumblr, but here I am doing the equivalent of a Tumblr reblog (h/t Dave). Been trying not to go more than three days without posting anything new on my livejournal, and this is fast and easy, while I wonder why I can't untrack myself and finally write about T-ara.

Of course, what may intrigue me most about this vid isn't the sexual and species politics but rather everybody jumping from language to language, from English to non-English — I assume to Tagalog, and maybe to some Spanish, too; I don't know. (Not to mention Horse.) Are the Philippines a fundamentally multilingual society? I don't merely mean "one with more than a single language" — I assume India's got everybody beat — but one where citizens generally shift from one language to another to a third as a matter of course, midconversation, midsentence. I'm envious, if this is the case.
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Over the last few months several groups from the commercial lower tiers of K-pop have been at least as exciting as the big names. Foremost among them is New.F.O, whose "Bounce" would be a candidate for my 2012 P&J had the single not come out in late November, eight days before my December 1 cutoff date. The vid poses the question, "Don't we wish we were alien spaceship masters like 2NE1?," and the synths give us laser rays to match; but the singing is Fat Cat times five, these kitties sticking high-pitched electropopsicles hard in our ear.

Also recommended: ChoColat "I Like It," After School "Rambling Girls," Clazzi ft. Koti & Jubi "Sexy Doll," Sunny Hill "The Grasshopper Song."
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2NE1 in ilX 'n' P&J

"I Am The Best" ranks only 38th in the ilX poll but receives wild gushes from those who'd not previously heard it: "there is something beyond just the synth timbre that is really evoking early 90s hoover rave bumping up against acid and pop music that is essentially aural catnip to me, only with a stronger editor behind the song to avoid Lady Gaga's songs' unfortunate tendency to become scattershot and unfocused."

Here is a list of everyone I could find who isn't me who voted Korean in Pazz & Jop 2011. Let me know if I missed somebody. Those in bold are voters I don't remember previously hearing of:

Vijith Assar - HyunA "Bubble Pop!"
Brent Baldwin - Shin Joong Hyun Beautiful Rivers & Mountains
Justin Chun - 4minute "Mirror Mirror," After School "Shampoo"
Michaela Drapes - 2NE1 "I Am The Best"
Chuck Eddy - GD&TOP "High High," 2NE1 "I Am The Best"
Phil Freeman - Wonder Girls "Be My Baby," 2NE1 "I Am The Best"
Richard Gehr - Shin Joong Hyun Beautiful Rivers & Mountains
Steve Holtje - A Pink "My My," BoA "Milestone"*
Andy Hutchins - 2NE1 "I Am The Best"
Kyle Kramer - HyunA "Bubble Pop!"
Todd Kristel - 2NE1 "I Am The Best"
Josh Langhoff - X-Cross "Crazy"
David Cooper Moore - HyunA "Bubble Pop!"
Brad Nelson - Wonder Girls "Be My Baby," Miss A "Good-bye Baby," 2NE1 "Ugly"
Chris Randle - HyunA "Bubble Pop!" 2NE1 "I Am The Best"
Tal Rosenberg - GD&TOP "High High"
Chris Weingarten - HyunA "Bubble Pop!"

I, by the way, voted for 11 or 12, depending on whether Galaxy Dream are Korean or not. Also, I worry that the inordinate time I spend trawling the Web for K-pop means that I'm overlooking a lot of great Rumanian dance pop and South African house (like this).

I'm not doing an affinity list this year, since I'm pretty sure Chuck and Dave are the only ones who voted for three songs or albums that I voted for (Chuck was three songs and Dave was three albums).

*"Milestone" is as far as I know a Japan-only release so probably should count more as J-pop; actually, other than the Japanese pronunciation/timbre, the song could be American, even country pop.
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While searching YouTube fruitlessly for some 2NE1/Big Bang couples action, I came across this live sitting-on-the-floor knockoff of the inferior reggae version of "I Don't Care," with G-Dragon writing, on the spot, a brilliantly half-assed, hilariously ineffective self-justification of the male attitude.

Unfortunately the dude who uploaded that vid compressed its width. Here's the same segment, with the correct ratio but without the Eng Sub:

Read a lyrics translation of "Tonight" that made fear and misogyny seem casually rampant in it, in an interestingly conflicted way — the lyrics don't want to commit to the romance that suffuses the sound, with pain equally suffusing the sound — and I've been afraid to look further, at alternate translations, to confirm my theory that when T.O.P. romantically says "Good night" at the end he's really kicking her out of bed.


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