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HyunA is my artist of the year for 2016, but Wonder Girls also had a couple of excellent singles, and since they've now disbanded it's my last chance for them. Hence the dual award. (I'm in the habit of doing this every June, except when it slips to July, or in this case August. And my 2016 singles list still needs to go up.)

Wonder Girls "Why So Lonely" (2016)

It seems to me Wonder Girls were in great shape to go forward, though I don't know anything about their relations with one another or with their agency, JYP.* Their recent concept as a "band" may have been something of a gimmick, each member playing an instrument. But they were also all involved in writing and producing the new stuff, as good as anything JYP had provided them earlier. And not only was it good, it managed to mix in adult-like stylings, loungey and breathy and jazzy, without losing its danciness or its lightheartedness. And, while not as radical as Oh My Girl's juxtapositions with similar material, it was as good as that, too. Like K-pop as a whole, Wonder Girls were excellent at working in and playing around with decades and decades of Western dance-pop styles — hip-hop and r&b and synthpop and disco and soul and girl group — without sounding anything less than contemporary. And when Wonder Girls went explicitly retro they still weren't retro. I'll miss them.

Also, Wonder Girls were my first K-pop group: the first I heard and the first I posted about. Not because I knew anything about them, or about K-pop; didn't even know there was such a thing. I'd long been playing with the idea of the dependence of foreground — what you do — on background, on what your collaborators do, on what the rest of the world does, or what it leaves blank, what shores you up and highlights you and sets you off, what differentiates you from the rest and the rest from you, your light and their shadow and their light and your shadow, how they create you and demolish you and you create them and demolish them, everything potentially twisting everything inside out. This has been kind of my ongoing thesis and masterpiece, my most high-profile version focusing on the Rolling Stones and James Brown. One day in 2009 I read a UPI squib about a Korean girl group as the opening act on a Jonas Brothers' American tour. Out of curiosity I searched YouTube and lo and behold, there was the Wonder Girls video for "Nobody" with Park Jin-young (JYP) doing a gag as a James Brown wannabe who gets displaced by his background singers. So I posted under the title "Background Becomes Foreground," and anhh and [personal profile] petronia showed up in the comments and began my K-pop schooling.

Like This and So Hot )

As for HyunA, she's long been appealing as the friendly sex-bomb next door, humorous and emotional and emotionally accessible, donning sexiness as a kind of plaything, enjoying stardom and playing chicken with the censors while being fundamentally unpretentious. I liked how she put herself at an angle from the K-pop work ethic. She was powerfully fun without needing super dance chops or technically impressive rap displays. What I wasn't expecting was the raw power of her singles from the last three years, especially "Red" and "How's This?" but "Roll Deep" and 4Minute's "Crazy" belong there too. They basically rock the fuck out of the joint. A lot may have to do with the whole writing and arranging crew on these, some or all of HyunA herself, Seo Jae-woo, Big Ssancho, and Son Young-jin. Her sexy pout may not be any stronger than it ever was, but it's now the riveting center of music that no longer just tickles or seduces you but knocks you over, too. Or knocks me over, anyway. ("How's This?" isn't streaming at the amount of the others, none of which are as high as 2011's "Bubble Pop!")** And she's becoming a template for other acts: CLC and Miso.

HyunA "How's This?" (2016)

Btw, if you want to, you can see a bit of a shadow side in all of this, all her sex and dance invitations: there's the question of whether anyone really has it in themselves to run with her. I think Jessica Doyle way overstates this at the Jukebox, the loneliness, but she does a great bit of analysis, and she's right, it's there. Mo Kim sees it too: "HyunA registers 'How's this?' less as a coy request than as a taunt: she's daring us to keep up. Read that as fun, or sad, or somewhere in between..." Of course you can hear it as bragging, too. "I'll be a wolf forever, or I can live alone." (Here's an EngSub vid for "How's This?" You can find 'em for most of her songs, and find most of her lyrics translated at pop!gasa as well.) After School stated this duality succinctly at the start of "Bang!" one of my primary K-pop tracks: "T-R-Y Do it now! Can you follow me? Yes, uh-huh. T-R-Y Pick it up! You'll never catch me. Oh no." 'Cause if you get too close, I'm gone like a cool breeze.

Red, Hot Issue, Irony, footnote )
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A punk votes for a punk (again). Here's the playlist:

1. Lil Debbie "F That"
2. NCT 127 "Limitless"
3. MC G15 "Deu Onda"
4. Jovi "Ou Même"
5. CLC "Hobgoblin"
6. Miso "KKPP"

7. Juan LaFonta ft. Big Freedia "Bounce TV"
8. Pristin "Wee Woo"
9. Omar Souleyman "Ya Bnayya"
10. Steps "Scared Of The Dark"
11. Vince Staples "BagBak"

12. Cherry Coke "Like I Do"
13. K.A.R.D "Rumor"
14. Die Antwoord "Love Drug"
15. Alternative TV "Negative Primitive"

16. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie "In My World"
17. K.A.R.D "Don't Recall"
18. Ashmute "Scenery"
19. Twice "Knock Knock"
20. Molly "Я просто люблю тебя (Dance version)"

21. Serebro "Пройдет"
22. Hyolyn x Kisum "Fruity"
23. G-reyish "Johnny Gogo"
24. Yungtime ft. Mihney "Uh uh, uh hum"
25. Nadia Rose "The Intro"
26. Mani Bella ft. Tenor "Déranger"

27. Reniss "Pilon"
28. Jessi, Microdot, Dumbfoundead, Lyricks "KBB"
29. Sunny Sweeney "Better Bad Idea"
30. IU "Jam Jam"
31. Maahlox le vibeur "Un Bon Plantain"
32. Koppo "Gromologie"

You once again get Debbie's nasty mug staring at you atop my playlist and my prediction is you'll get her all year. So — again — a punk's voting for a punk, me for Debbie. (See me a few months ago ripping in all different directions on punk, and a more malevolent punk voting for a more malevolent punk.)

As you may have expected, I've spent hours debating whether the CLC track ranks higher than the Miso or vice versa. I keep trying to throw Miso higher, for being the more powerful performer. But CLC get more help from their song, the zoom golly golly takeoff being seductive and razzy at the same time.

But Miso seems to have razz and seduction burned into her personality, or at least her persona: low-rent and going for instant ingratiation, which can be more alive and more enduring than art that has more forethought or money or integrity behind it. I really don't know how well I'm reading Miso, though, how much of this is just the low budget rather than the personality. In the video I think she's throwing herself at us, with smiles that aren't friendliness or niceness, so it's availability that's not altogether available, but a lot of wiseass fun. It's not unfriendly, if you wanna play along. Except as I said I'm just guessing here, and peering across cultures. The template is HyunA but without the immediate allure and playfulness (or without convincing me of the allure and playfulness); so where HyunA's strong and warm and emotionally accessible, Miso's aggressive and fast, but actually that's alluring too, a fast come-here-and-ride. A different allure. Or a video that couldn't afford a lot of camera setups.

As David Frazer points out, "KKPP" uses the same sample as "Canvas" by HyunA's old group 4Minute, though that song's not the group's most HyunA-centric.

Speaking of "Canvas," it's number 4 on my list for last year, the final version of which was finished in February but I still haven't posted the list; last year I thought Rihanna's product wasn't as good as the cheap Eastern European knockoff (Era Istrefi's "BonBon"); this year T-ara's going-out-of-business single isn't as good as "Johnny Gogo," G-reyish's poor-boy-sandwich of a "Roly-Poly" imitation; and of course HyunA's single with Triple H isn't as good as the two HyunA imitations on my list.

Francophone West Africa is killing it, even if I don't understand it )
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1. 4minute "Canvas"
2. FAMM'IN "Circle"
3. Aommy "Shake"
4. Tiffany ft. Simon Dominic "Heartbreak Hotel"
5. NCT U "The 7th Sense"
6. Tiggs Da Author ft. Lady Leshurr "Run"
7. BTS "Save Me"

For some reason I'm picking mood pieces here (tracks 1, 2, 5), sound that's atmospheric but with its sleeves up and muscles flexed, floating fields of toughness. Tiffany, tall and lithe (track 4), is in a mood too, ol' r&b sadness, integrity in heartbreak.

Tiggs isn't playing tough. He'd rather do fear, if it's got speed and a beat.

Aommy is cute and hot and fiery, seems working class to me: in the video, power is kicking the people who can kick you, and imagining (imaging it as if) they'll take it as just hard flirting, and so will the viewers — 'cause the woman doing the workout still needs to flirt, her boundaries not really protected, and maybe she wants to flirt as well, or works it well, anyway, and isn't really seeking an alternative. At least, it feels to me as if the video wants to have its cake and eat it too. Or maybe it's just a workout vid with fantasy advice for women getting by in what remains primarily men's space. The coda is good-naturedly inclusive. I don't know Thailand, so these are distant guesses.

Not keeping up, obviously; four of these I scarfed up only this week.

And 4minute are no more, by disagreement, not choice, it seems (reading between lines of the public reportage).

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Saw Ash-B's first appearance on Unpretty Rapstar and went, "Oh, no, they're making her/she's making herself sound tough and real and it won't work and she'll lose," so I averted my ears and avoided the show.

To my barely informed mind HyunA is now the dominant rapper in K-pop in that whenever anyone in Exid or 4minute who is not HyunA starts to rap or sing, I go, "This sort of sounds like HyunA but now I'm waiting for HyunA herself to show up." "Red" last year established this for me. (The wait is longer in Exid than in 4minute, obviously.)

Crayon Pop continue to score by ignoring past achievements; SHINee and Wonder Girls explicitly wallow in a past that's of course been implicit all along throughout the genre; most interesting freestylish moment, though, is "Delete," which casually pairs old NY-Philly-Miami riffs with cool autonomous vocals that you'd never ever have heard on an actual vintage freestyle track.

Since spring I've barely listened to anything that isn't medium-old jazz (Lee Konitz, Miles Davis).* So this list suffers, esp. in its dearth of No Tiers discoveries.** I've basically been relying on YouTube-generated playlists for K-pop and on random looks at the Singles Jukebox for everything else. I found Lila Downs via her "Cuando Me Tocas Tú" linked on Jonathan Bogart's Tumblr. (That track and Wonder Girls' "One Black Night" are candidates for my Freaky Trigger ballot, which allows album tracks.)

So, what have you been listening to?

1. Ash-B "매일"
2. The Seeya "The Song Of Love"
3. Azin "Delete"
4. Rihanna "Bitch Better Have My Money"
5. HyunA ft. Jung Ilhoon "Roll Deep (Because I'm The Best)"

6. Crayon Pop "FM"
7. ZZBEst "랄랄라"
8. Titica "Você Manda Fogo"
9. Momoiro Clover Z vs KISS "Yumeno Ukiyoni Saitemina"
10. Red Velvet "Ice Cream Cake"
Daphne And Celeste through T-ara (11 through 20) )
SHINee through GFriend (21 through 33) )

*In jazz, I didn't like what I heard this year from previous fave Matana Roberts. Sounded like a parody of a 1950s bohemian séance.

**But let me reiterate my liking for the missed-by-me-last-year "Babomba" from the impressively overlooked (and now personnel-shifted) Badkiz.
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Yesterday my girlfriend and I heard, piped into the King Soopers supermarket on Speer and 14th, near where I work (serves a Hispanic neighborhood to the west, downtown to the east, Auraria Campus to the north), Television's "See No Evil." I'd certainly never heard anything like it — classic Velvets-Byrds-Wagner derived avant garage from the first CBGB era — in a major supermarket chain before. (King Soopers is Kroger's outlet on the Wyoming/Colorado Front Range.) Was followed up by a surf instrumental, then '60s pop hit "Georgy Girl."

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Today, at the King Soopers on Evans and Carr, a few blocks south of where I live in heavily Hispanic west Denver, the guy in front of me complimented a woman working checkout by telling her she had a lovely necklace and asking whose picture it featured. "It's a Korean group, GOT7. Sorta hip-hop and dance," she explained. I spoke up: "I know GOT7. They're the latest on JYP," I added, in order to appear knowledgeable. The woman was about 22, seemingly Anglo.* As she rang up my order, I asked her what other K-pop she listened to, and she said her other best band was Infinite. "Oh yeah," I said, "'Be Mine.'" "That's one of their best songs," she said. She said that SHINee was also one of her favorites, but that GOT7 and Infinite were the ones she liked most. "Have good listening," I said, as I carted off my groceries.

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Of course, GOT7 have zilch to do with Television, or CBGB. But notice that the love interest in the supermarket in GOT7's "A" is wearing a T-shirt of another classic CBGB act.

*By "Anglo" I mean non-Hispanic Caucasian; I'd be considered "Anglo" by this def'n, even though my ancestry is Eastern and Central European Jew.
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I've been claiming that K-pop has a load of freestyle embedded in it, though I can't say how much of this is conscious, how much subliminal (e.g., GLAM knew they were sampling Chuli & Miae but seemed unaware that what they'd sampled was already a sample from the Cover Girls), and how much underived convergence (drawing on similar '80s and electronic sources, you can develop strategies and sounds that are similar to freestyle without their coming directly from freestyle). As far as I know, the word "freestyle" doesn't itself tend to pop up in K-pop as a reference to the NY-Miami '80s electronic dance style.*

Be that as it may, producer Shinsadong Tiger only sometimes delves into freestyle,** but there's a moment near the start of the regular mix*** of T-ara's "Sugar Free" where he's doing a fricassee chop and sugar toss right out of Mickey Garcia and Elvin Molina, for instance this from the Garcia-Molina production of Judy Torres' "Come Into My Arms" and this from their production of Cynthia's "Change On Me." Overall, "Sugar Free"'s hard four-four is far from freestyle, but "Sugar Free" has a recurring riff that also reminds me of Garcia and Molina in its bounce and its fast twistiness. Here are the three songs in full, which are very much worth your time:

T-ara "Sugar Free"

Judy Torres "Come Into My Arms"
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Cynthia "Change On Me"
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"Sugar Free" is the third consecutive riff-heavy throw-you-against-the-wall electronic dance track that Tiger's done for T-ara ("Sexy Love" and "Number 9" being the previous two), and once again I like it, all three being appropriately grimmer than the charming "Roly-Poly" and "Lovey-Dovey" he'd done for them pre-"scandal" (though I'm sure "Sexy Love" was conceived pre-scandal, so this likely is a coincidence). Still, I miss the charm. I have a bit of the same reaction to "Sugar Free" that I had to the Duble Sidekick–produced "Jeon Won Diary," which is that the track itself seems to be overwhelming the T-ara-ness. I feel this might have been more naturally a 4minute song, owing to the crescendo parts reminiscent of "Volume Up" and the way the title chant and the raps seem to be aching for HyunA's comically agressive pouting. These aren't criticisms. Having been thrown down a notch commercially, T-ara are still throwing down gripping music.

As for other recent T-ara product, the Jiyeon EP works very well for me while the Hyomin EP doesn't, though the latter has pretty good material. Hyomin may be the group's most emblematic singer, sounding sketchy yet strong in the higher register, so not quite "fierce" or "emphatic" but the one most defining of the high pitch, the one who makes it shred, even if her singing gets shredded a bit in the process. The shredding comes across as emotional commitment. But maybe she needs the other T-ara voices preceding and following her for everything to jell.

Jiyeon of course has been playing a role in my imagination that may have little to do with her. I cast her as the foil, perhaps? That may not be the right word. She's not counter to the bright T-ara sound, she's just not being the one to light it up. Stands off to the side in a way that draws her emotional attention anyway. On Never Ever her uninflected breathiness paradoxically gives gravity to the light sentimental material.

*As opposed to meaning raps that are off-the-cuff rather than entirely prewritten, this being an entirely different use of the word "freestyle."

**While 4minute's "Hot Issue" feels very freestyle to me, there's not a lot more from Tiger that does so — though in a brief moment in "Number 9," Jiyeon did manage to make me think of Brenda K. Starr's and Pajama Party's "Over And Over." And I feel

***Interestingly, it's not the regular mix but the tougher, bigger, and more spacious Big Room mix that's getting the big promo push from the label.
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I was thinking of leaving the albums category blank, since I didn't give it the attention it needed, and Ashley and Kacey would have done fine without my vote. But Sturgill deserved the shout-out. (Not that any category got the attention it needed. And I’m already second-guessing what I wrote about Sturgill Simpson’s bitterness; not that the bitterness isn’t glaringly evident, but I don’t know if I did right by its complexity. Simpson’s in an interesting fight with his pain (I mean both senses of “with”). Trigger at Saving Country Music thinks “The World Is Mean” is about acceptance and moving forward. I’m not sure about that. But I am a bit worried about not having been fair. But who said life was fair?)


1. 2YOON - "24/7"
2. Miranda Lambert - "Mama's Broken Heart"
3. Kacey Musgraves - "Blowin' Smoke"
4. The Civil Wars - "The One That Got Away"
5. Luke Bryan - "That's My Kind Of Night"

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6. Sturgill Simpson - "Life Ain't Fair And The World Is Mean"
7. Cassadee Pope - "Wasting All These Tears"
8. Chris Stapleton - "What Are You Listening To?"
9. Taylor Swift - "22"
10. Gwen Sebastian - "Suitcase"


1. Sturgill Simpson - High Top Mountain
2. Ashley Monroe - Like A Rose
3. Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park

Bunch of other categories )


Sturgill Simpson could rename himself Grumpy Stodgill, so resolved is he to be left-behind and to resent it. So the album works way better as music than as music criticism, but I'm sure Grumpy'll take that tradeoff. Hard, bitter, immovable.

Korean duo 2YOON's "24/7" isn't country so much as it's a visit to a country theme park (that's exactly how it's portrayed in the video). But as a lark rather than a lived-in world it manages to be more alive and rousing than a year's full of defensive, redneck partying, maybe because it isn't burdened with having to represent the vitality of an American South that is still determined to feel defeated.

Women have been going musically berserk in response to broken hearts since well before Frankie plugged Albert (not to mention Johnny) and Miss Otis sent her regrets. And Kacey's "Merry Go Round" references Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes" (1962), and it could have footnoted Ray Davies' "Well Respected Man" (1965) as well, for adoring the girl next door while dyin' to get at her. But there is a twist of feminism and newness coming from the McAnally-Musgraves-Lambert-Monroe clique, as they frame these old tropes as a breaking out rather than a breaking down. This isn't all that new either - Martina McBride and Shawn Colvin were lighting up the sky in rebellion a decade before Miranda struck her match with "Kerosene." But if people keep claiming a newness, this could lead to their creating some genuine newness. The experience isn't new but the response to it can be.

Technical details )

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I remember in the second half of 2011, while 2NE1 were being my official, conscious favorite band in the world, T-ara were subliminally becoming my actual favorite band. This didn't really pour forth in my writing, though, until the year changed. 2012 started with Jiyeon, Soyeon, and crew dancing in a circle, and shuffling backwards in unison, adorable and indefatigable at the same time, joyeous but so serious, too, working so hard at catching up with the world's dance: the shuffle, which had been a subcult of individual idiosyncrasy and creativity and had been transformed by LMFAO into an international dance of comic compulsion and affliction, was now, for T-ara, simple workaday everyday solidarity, seven unpretentious young women moving in the latest style.

At the end of the year I was going back to the very same clips and it was like watching T-ara suddenly caught in the headlights, the half-second before they register surprise and fear. You wonder what's really there, Hwayoung flinging her leg sideways in the performance's showpiece, dance after dance after dance, four nights a week, Eunjung dropping out 'cause of a broken kneecap, others missing this or that show owing to schedule conflicts or minor injuries, the dance formations being reworked to accommodate.

But back in late 2011 I was already wondering about T-ara, who are they, why are they so good? 4minute, with engaging and accessible sex-bomb Hyuna at the center and the 2-yoons as vocal powerhouses, and a push-and-pull of appeal and rebellion that is a lot closer than T-ara are to my own sensibility, and who work with some of the same producers and songwriters, reach me in maybe one out of every three songs. Whereas T-ara have no bad songs,* except perhaps a Xmas throwaway here or an OST side project there, and even most of those are good. Even the ballads are good — standard and sentimental and just a day's dip into normal emotion.

I have no explanation, really. I bolded the "T-ara Pure" link below, maybe the most crucial of my attempts to figure it out, though I really just came up with adjectives, and not that many, piggy-backing on my first-quarter roundup. T-ara are kinda normal, I guess — I never made it to watching the variety shows to find hints of who they are as people. There's Hyomin's high pitch and Jiyeon's engaging disengagement, and Soyeon's determination — now a loaded word. Normal singers and dancers, taking what the world throws at them, until the world REALLY began throwing hard, and in response they froze. You can click the T-ara tag for any time T-ara comes up in my posts or in the comments. And here are links to what I consider the more significant of my T-ara and T-ara-related posts on lj, from the beginning to right now. I do, especially, think my Pazz & Jop ballot is a crackerjack bit of writing, my best attempt to sum up the pathology T-ara was subjected to starting mid-year.

Near year's end T-ara issued an apology to their fans, vowing to work harder, "work" being their only solution to the madness, even though it was just that, work, that did nothing for them when the storm hit.

Here goes )

Mother Of God, Is This The End Of T-ara? )
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On the latest 4minute EP, four* different sets of producers/writers make the same decision (or follow the same instructions), which is to create songs that have lots of empty space, highlighting each singer and song segment without worrying too much about tying sections together musically or emotionally. These tracks belong to a strange and interesting trend: strategies of incoherence, also being employed to a lesser or greater extent by G-Dragon ("Crayon"), SNSD ("I Got A Boy"), GLAM ("I Like That"), 4minute subunit 2Yoon ("24/7"), plus some others I can't think of this second.

Works pretty well. None of 4minute are bravura-type vocalists, but they're each distinct and can handle the spotlight. HyunA dominates, with bits of incantation and scraps of rap. She really enjoys being a star. The two Yoons twirl their melodies like lassos. Lots of fun. Mat complains regarding "What's Your Name" that "lalalas" are no good for this group, but I disagree. The lalalas fit 4minute's general demeanor of cheerfully contentious salaciousness, are just more seduction. I do find Brave Brothers' beats a bit weak and chintzy. If you're gonna go spare you need strong and dramatic architecture, not just mild percolation.** But the hook has stuck more than I expected. I do prefer "Whatever" (credited to the unknown-to-me Seo Jae Woo, D3O, and Aileen De La Cruz, the latter two being Canadian if my Internet search is steering me right):

*The fifth track, "Domino," is more standard and rather dull.

**I still don't know what I think of Brave Brothers. He's got four MAJOR tracks that I know of, which is a lot: Sistar's "Alone," Sistar19's "Gone Not Around Any Longer," Big Bang's "Last Farewell," and Son Dam-bi's & After School's "Amoled." On those two Sistar tracks, the chintz kind of counterbalances Hyorin's precisely aching and gorgeous vocals, prevents the singing from being too exquisite and respectable, as does all the dumb bending over with ass out in the videos. My defense of "Amoled" is that it's a phone commercial, and you know on mobiles the sound is tinny, ditto the song, which incorporates the old tin of science fiction past.
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"Jeon Won Diary" is pretty damn catchy, but it doesn't feel at all like a T-ara song. I'm just puzzled that in sub-unit N4, where we've got three of the four T-aras who anyone really cares about (Hyomin, Jiyeon, and Eunjung, with Soyeon off in the other sub-unit*), the dance throb gets to overpower the stars' identity and to muzzle their charisma, at least sonically. Soyeon and Hyomin are the ones who've defined the T-ara high pitch most, Soyeon the reliable workhorse with Hyomin bringing the pitch even higher in a way that was simultaneously more tenuous and more emphatic, her adventure being the tension between waver and force. Meanwhile, Jiyeon was a gorgeous negative presence — clear, pale, breathy, uninflected — and Eunjung was called in whenever there was need for emotional pangs and highlights. She's been underutilized the last couple of years, and with Hwayoung gone I'd hoped Eunjung would get back to rapping. Instead guest guy Taewoon from labelmate Speed does a strong but not at all T-ara-esque rap, making me miss Hwayoung. Areum is new, young, full-voiced, and wholesome, but like the other three her distinctiveness gets flattened by the surrounding pounding dance.

None of this is necessarily a knock on the song. But when "Bo Peep Bo Peep" played in its insinuatingly provocative way at the start of the video drama version, I felt a pang for all that's missing here. Now should have been the time for T-ara to be making a T-ARA impact.

Instead, the accordion and the screeching-brake synths kinda get to be the main protagonists, with the sax as their playful shape-shifting sidekick: is stereotypically smooth and sensitive leading into the chorus, then turns all squawky and dissonant in the ga-ring-ga-ring-ga part (unless that squawker is some "ethnic" or "traditional" instrument impersonating a sax). Next to it, the accordion chugs along as if it owns the roadway.

Moot )

Pratfalls )


Feb. 6th, 2013 09:54 pm
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[livejournal.com profile] warthoginrome writes:

I don't know if you had the chance to run into this news, so I wanted to point it out, because the topic is common to the entire asian pop scene.

The story is about Minami Minegishi (20 y.o.), member of the japanese group AKB48. A tabloid published some photographs of her leaving the apartment of her boyfriend, Alan Shirahama (19 y.o.), member of the boy band Generations.

As you may guess, Minami is bound to a "contract" which prohibits any kind of relationships. After the bomb exploded, she decided (spontaneously?) to cut her hair and record a public apology. In the video she apologizes to colleagues, family, and fans, reproaching herself for having been "thoughtless and immature," and specifying that "I don't believe just doing this means I can be forgiven for what I did, but the first thing I thought was that I don't want to quit AKB48." In the meantime, the agency demoted her from the "senior" to the "trainee" rank, for "for causing a nuisance to the fans."

I don't really know why, but as soon as I saw the video, the T-ARA controversy came to my mind, because I find it hard to tolerate the unlimited power of the so called netizens (better, customers). This is really too much. I know that, after all, Minami is more fortunate than many boys and girls of her age living in much tougher conditions around the globe, but I feel bad for her anyway.
Checking this out myself, I see that American news outlets have been all over this story, reporting that the incident has provoked pushback and even outrage in Japan, people calling the treatment of Minami unfair and saying it amounts to bullying (many people assuming she had little choice in the matter of close-cropping her hair).

 photo Minami Minegishi shaved head.jpg

Some American (I assume) commentators at The Young Turks provided their own perspective, and my crap detector says that they didn't actually research the culture, that they're making guesses as to the attitudes behind the no-dating rule. ("You're no good unless you're virginal, you're no good unless you're pure, you're no good unless I actually have a shot at sleeping with you sometime in the future.") But then, I haven't researched it either. And just because they're guessing doesn't mean they're wrong.

Crossing the border )

G-Dragon )

Results nobody wants )
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Solbi's "Ottogi," yet another "Lipstick"-like half-trot bridging the silly rhythms of Americano speaklessness and Romanian saxobeats. I missed this when it surfaced last August during the T-ara hysteria. Most notable for 4minute's Jiyoon on the rap:

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And a witty Latin house version:

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Here's HyunA displaying her Pikachu voice (segment begins 26 seconds in), anticipating how a year later she tells Psy he's just her style. But what's striking me now about the clip is Jihyun saying, right at the start, "We're famous for not having talents." I can't tell if this is just a quick quip, a "talent" merely meaning a special side attribute, or if the comment is coming from somewhere deeper.

There's a TV clip a bit later (here, and continues here) of their discussing how they deal with harsh comments, the guys who told them, "It's okay, just get your faces done first" (i.e., told them that their performance wasn't bad but that before they debut they ought to all have plastic surgery*), and people later who called them "deud minute," an acronym for "I couldn't even listen to or see 4minute." Those of you who've been following this longer and more attentively than I have: Are 4minute's looks considered a challenge to typical idol-girl faces and fashion? HyunA, of course, is Sex Symbol Of The Moment in K-pop, and she seems a master at being able to switch from goofball and brat in one second to total command in the next, donning and shucking off cuteness at will, while nonetheless coming across as fundamentally warm and spontaneous, and a light-hearted attention grabber. (If you stick with the Mr. Teacher vid beyond Pikachu, you'll see a funny sequence where HyunA's videoing the rest of 4minute head-on as they walk along a Kuala Lumpur street, but complains that it's scary for her to walk backwards, so makes all of them walk backwards so that she can be walking forward while continuing to work the camera.) But I wonder if the rest are considered non-idol-style in their looks and demeanor (and if that's felt to be a plus by their fans). Gayoon's face looks squashed-in, and Jihyun's can fall into a weary or sardonic droop, though I don't think that makes either of them unattractive.

I also wonder if HyunA's quick image switches make the general K-pop audience uneasy; to me she's thoroughly coherent and has done a smooth job of disarming the opposition.

Update: All hail Jiyoon )

*I gather that their label president encouraged them not to. And as Jihyun says, it's too late now anyway, since everyone knows their faces.
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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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Trevor's got an in-depth analysis of the "Gee" video and the male gaze or absence thereof. If I'm interpreting his basic point right, it's that the video is about girls having fun with girls, not about how they appear to some guy — or maybe more emphatically, it's about the girls having fun with girls while abandoning the gaze of some guy. As far as it goes, this analysis seems right, and matches what I think about Miss A's live routine for "Breathe," which is that it's not about some guy making them breathless; rather, the supposed breathlessness is a pretext for the young women* to clown around with each other.

Except I don't think that puts the issue to rest, not by a long shot. What I find limited in Trevor's analysis is that he's talking about the story in the video but he's not talking about the story of the video in the world. For instance, I'm looking at the video. So's Trevor. So are you. I don't see that the video has subtracted our eyes.

An incomplete list of gazes, gazers, etc. that might be relevant:

--The characters in the video
--The performers in the video
--Who the videomakers envision might be looking at the video
--The videomakers themselves (incl. performers, costumers, editors, financiers, etc.)
--The assumptions the videomakers make about the audiences for the video, about the audiences' expectations regarding music etc., audiences' role in fandom and their vision of the world, and about how the audiences are likely to use the video, etc.**
--The experiences and assumptions of the videomakers themselves about video, music, life; their vision of potential worlds etc.
--The actual audiences for the video and how they see such videos; their visions of the world and of potential worlds; how they use the video in their lives
--The people writing about the video; the writers' assumptions and visions etc. and their assumptions about their readers' assumptions and visions etc.
--The social classes/categories of the aforementioned (which obv. include age and gender but include a lot of other stuff too)
--How all these gazes, gazers, uses, etc. may change over time, the use of the video not being fixed

More gazing, plus footnotes )
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In part one I'd charted "a frequent version of verse-chorus form" as follows, saying that this was the form of "Volume Up":

chart )

It actually starts with an introduction, where we get the muted sax sample, and what I was calling the "break" was just the second half of the middle eight. Teasing out the parts:

0:00 Intro: muted, moody sax, sets the serious tone that the song will subsequently embellish, lampoon, demolish, reassert, etc., meanwhile, underneath, a keyboard suggests a dance and a counterrhythm → 0:16 1st part of verse: HyunA lays out the predicament but also ends each line with a flourish of staccato syllables, "naw-aw aw-aw-aw, naw-aw aw-aw-aw," "heh-eh eh-eh-eh, wah-ah ah-ah-ah" that, while not being out-and-out parody, are amusing enough to detach HyunA from the anguish that the music is pretending to establish (I'm at a loss to convey how good this is/she is: I imagine her singing each syllable with a vertically oval open mouth while making her eyes as round as her mouth, in faux innocence [EDIT: though perhaps JiYoon or GaYoon is the syllable singer; see Update 2 below]); reading this socially, I'd say that the operatic syllables signal the song's ambitiousness but that the actual sound comes from comic opera, so creates a sense of incipient hilarity → 0:29 2nd part of verse: GaYoon does a couple of vocal descents, not too heavily but with the pang and heat that reminds us there is some angsty young-and-in-unhappy-love business here; back in the mix, piano continues hopping along, readying us for the dance → 0:45 prechorus: GaYoon carries over from the previous part with a long note, something between a wail and a canopy, with HyunA returning, down at ground level, now as a rapper, pushy and tough and teasing and beneficently benign all at once, the music pounding and rising in a slate-cleaning crescendo, "everybody, TIME TO ROCK" → 0:59 chorus: JiYoon grabs the banner as the pounding boshbeat rides us across the battlefield; this doesn't feel like a cathartic chorus so much as the song launching itself forward, JiYoon amplifying the emotion and jabbing us with some savage "eh-eh eh-ehs" of her own → 1:15 second part of chorus: and like GaYoon before her, JiYoon launches herself atop the proceedings and splashes down on the moody sax that mellows us out a little, while a singer — I'm not sure who — pulls some syllabic "oh oh oh-oh ohs" off the grill and starts juggling them to remind us of opera and joy and open-mouthed emotion.

Second verse more or less same as the first )

Which brings us to → 2:43 middle eight: for four bars we've got JiHyun delicately wandering parks and fields, the melody doing the venture-to-distant-chords-and-return thing that I tried to understand back in college but never did; rest of 4minute do something that's probably formal or choral or ???? enough to be called "polyphony"; next four bars are the same except with the sax taking JiHyun's place and being more diffuse and less appealing → stuff about lyrics )

Update: All hail JiYoon )

Song form and Hot Issue )
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 photo Katharine Hepburn and stuffed giraffe.jpg

I think of Shinsadong Tiger tracks as catchy and spare, with some interesting musical countermotions but not overstuffed with them. 4minute's "Hot Issue" is a brilliant example (to be talked about in some later post), and is one of five or so tracks in the running for Frank's Favorite K-pop Track Ever. 4minute's new one, "Volume Up," feels like a radical departure: it's ambitious, it's full of stuff — stuff tumbling over other stuff — and it fucks radically with song form. Or at least it feels as if it's fucking with its form. I said to myself, "Shinsadong Tiger is fucking with us severely." And I sat down to diagram the thing, to figure out the game he was playing, and I went, "Hmmm, well some parts repeat, and if you call this the prechorus, and what comes after it the chorus, well…" And what I came up with was:

Verse → Chorus → Verse → Chorus → Middle Eight → Break → Chorus

Which is to say it's standard as fuck, doesn't screw with song structure at all. Except, I still think he's screwing with us. For one thing, the part I ended up calling the "prechorus" is a crescendo, and its effect when it first comes along is to make you think, or feel (since you don't put it into words),"OK, this cancels everything before it, makes that all prelude or preface or intro, and what comes after is the song proper; so here we go, we're starting with the verse." And what comes next sounds like a verse, rumbling along jaunty and energetic but not trying for a payoff — except it's the first section of what I've labeled "Chorus," above, in order to ram the song into verse-chorus format. Another peculiarity, which helped send my perception of form into confusion, is that several parts of the song end with a high-pitched wailing vocal that keeps going, soaring above and then spilling into the next part of the song. And what end up actually functioning as payoffs are recurring motifs (I'm calling them "motifs" rather than "riffs" or "hooks" because, as I said, the song feels ambitious — which doesn't mean it's not totally the opposite of grim; it doesn't carry a sign on it that says "funny," since it's not a joke song; but there's a deadpan playfulness, sending itself, without officially winking at us, over the top), for instance, a number of "oh oh oh oh ohs" and "eh eh eh eh ehs" declaimed by the group as if they were comic operetta singers out on parole, fanning out across the countryside (in the video, the women of 4minute are stationed in a medieval castle or cathedral, dressed in motley colors, as visual antigoths, I suppose; but when hearing the music I envision them traveling fields and hills and hamlets, serenading an uneasy populace and perplexing the local constabulary) and fanning out across the song as well, the variously cascading "ahs" and "ehs" and "ohs" recurring in different melodies in different sections. In addition, we've got a muted sax playing a moody, pensive line at song's start and then reappearing in the chorus but this time as the exuberant splash at the end of one of the spillover vocal wails I mentioned earlier.

Pun, another diagram, genius )
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How to get Maura Johnston interested in K-pop )

Britney )

IU, "The Story Only I Didn't Know." I don't have a good explanation for why a particular ballad hits me, since most go in one ear and out the other, leaving only torpor to mark their passage. Here, IU creates a space of intense agony, the music standing stark still. Her small voice sounds almost matter-of-fact. Like adding up deadly accounts. (So, torpor bad but stillness good?) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAQ0d3LAtZ0 [click CC if you're not seeing English captions])

Galaxy Dream ft. Turbotronic, "Ready 4 Romance." Take any room, from shack to bar to ballroom, dim the lights, add breaths and echo effects, and voila! A dark, erotic, cavernous space. The cavemen figured this out early, using shadows and torches.

HyunA, the Bubble Pop! EP: on reality TV HyunA plays herself as a goofball and brat (search YouTube for "HyunA screams at chicken"), yet this does nothing to undo her sexual aura. On live performances of "Just Follow" she moves slow, her face expressionless, the expressionlessness expressing force and haughtiness, and an inner stillness — the stillness totally sexualized. I wonder what she thinks of it. Does the force field of sexiness that emanates from her have anything to do with her, or is it just a thing that she ("she") can use? Is it just her gorgeous, slightly blank face and her way of barely moving, restraint in her gestures, onto which we project the force field? She and Zico had performed "Just Follow" seven consecutive times [EDIT: over ten days, that is]; at the end of the eighth they deliberately break character and smile, "See, we're normal warm people after all"; and HyunA winks. But this is a controlled warmth, "See, I've been here all along," her revealing herself in her own time, doling out the warmth but only when she wants to. So besides warmth what's revealed is mastery, the ability to control the revelation, the smile demonstrating more control since it says "I can turn my roles on and off." The fear and hysteria she puts on when she wants to go girlie-girlie is a role too — even if the various roles all happen to be the truth. [EDIT: This P&J para, written Dec. 22, 2011 or thereabouts, was my first attempt to get at the awe-and-aura-not-requiring-distance point I next made a week later on my lj and a few days after that on Tumblr.]

Singles ballot )

Albums ballot )

Why I don't capitalize the m in 4minute )
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When HyunA did her first of a string of performances of "Just Follow," I wrote it up like so:

Live version of "Just Follow," with Zico in place of DOK2; HyunA's relative stillness makes her as steamy as ever, and Zico just kills. His rap in the middle is entirely new, and he improves on the original.

Rapping, and this slow tempo, suit HyunA well. She's digging in, sounding hard and wounded; meanwhile, her sensuousness operates on its own accord, drifts along with the music, a force field that saturates the room.

Of course the restraint — that she's withholding something: warmth, involvement — seems to be a big hunk of the allure. It is a big hunk of the allure. But then, the very last time they perform the song, she deliberately breaks character in the end. She winks, she goes into a broad grin. Then she and Zico return to their chairs and put on their tough, haughty, disgusted faces again, for a moment. And then HyunA's back to the grin, pointing at her mouth and breaking into laughter. And this seems to be a big part of her allure as well.

Garbo laughs )

From the YouTube comments:

Hyuna's last face shows her cuteness and it clearly indicates that she actually has an ordinary girl style in her identities as well.

HyunA's a BAMF. She can hold her lady swag up against any guy, and she's actually adorable to boot.

As Mat said to me down in the comments, HyunA plays the two sides off each other, still and steamy in the musical performance, a goofball and brat on reality TV. It doesn't seem to hurt her aura one bit that we have seen her screaming at a chicken:

Erving Goffman says in Presentation Of Self, "It is a widely held notion that restrictions placed upon contact, the maintenance of social distance, provide a way in which awe can be generated and sustained in the audience."1 I wonder if awe in the age of reality TV works differently. That this accessible, frazzled nice girl can mount the stage and become simultaneously sultry and cool may be more awesome than if we had only seen her in awesome mode. And that she can hold this pose and then simply set it aside like a garment may be more awesome still, that she's warm and impish really but has swag and stillness in her repertoire. Or maybe she's just sexy in almost any mode, and is willing to try them all.

1The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life, Anchor Books edition, p. 67
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The Korean Copyright Association writers' credits website is a pain in the neck owing to its decision to print everything in Romanized lettering. I would say, for instance, that the syllables "MA I THI MA U SEU" are not actually a useful way of communicating that a group's name is Mighty Mouth. (That it was in fact Mighty Mouth took me ten minutes to figure out, by first using an online transliteration tool to get "마 이 ㅌ히 마 우 스," then going to Google translate and playing with the spacing to get "마이 ㅌ히 마우스," which Google translate guessed was "My ㅌhi mouse" and I went, "Oh, they probably mean Mighty Mouth." Btw, "마이 ㅌ 히 마우스" translates as "Hi My articles about the mouse." Google translate itself is in an early stage of emotional development, I think - somewhere between "autonomy vs. shame and doubt" and "initiative vs. guilt.") It also doesn't help that there are at least two systems of romanization, and the website is using the less common; so, e.g., I've gotten that Mighty Mouth's "E Neo Ji feat. Seon Ye" is probably Mighty Mouth's "Energy" feat. Sun Ye of the Wonder Girls, but this was not by going from roman to Hangul to English but just by running a Google search for "Mighty Mouth" "feat. Seon Ye." But "E Neo Ji" Hangulizes as "에 너 지," which when condensed to "에너지" does indeed register as "Energy" on Google translate, so that's relatively easy. Haven't gotten anywhere with "Deul Eo Bwa" by Jyu Eol Ri S yet, however.

All this during a search on Sinsadong Horangee a.k.a. Shinsadong Tiger, who seems to be having a Lieber-Stoller couple of years, what with "Mirror Mirror," "Roly-Poly," and "Bubble Pop!" just in the last few months. I'm trying to fill in the history.


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