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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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Stubs of ideas, some of which may turn into future posts:

(1a) A punk votes for a punk (Johnny Rotten says nice things about Trump). Okay, he's not necessarily saying that he did vote for Trump, though from what he said it's a good assumption he did; but anyway, my armchair psychosocial analysis of the Trump win already had been "Punks voted for a punk," my using the word punks in a sorta pre-punk-rock sense, meaning people who compensate for subconsciously feeling weak by scapegoating and bullying and hurting the vulnerable; but such "punks" can include normally nice people too, people who let the punk aspect of themselves do their electoral thinking.

(1b) Only "sorta pre-punk-rock" given that original garage-rock punks such as ? And The Mysterians and the Syndicate Of Sound and the Seeds were indeed punks in the old sense, weak bully-type punks (and sexists as well),† but most of the great punk rockers — I'd start "punk rock" w/ Stones and Dylan, actually, with the caveat that the true punks, the garage rockers, weren't Stones and Dylan but the garage kids who'd dumbed Stones, Dylan, and Yardbirds down into punk, which'd be a fine explanation except that no one limits "punk rock" this way; most critics etc. would also include the Velvet Underground and MC5 and Stooges and Patti Smith and Richard Hell and Rocket From The Tombs and even more would include Ramones and Sex Pistols and the Clash and the Heartbreakers and X-Ray Spex and Black Flag and Nirvana and Hole, generally self-aware nonbully types, and if you're going to do this you've got to go back and count Dylan and the Stones — ...anyway, most of the great punk rockers (as generally defined) were about punk way more than they were punk; nonetheless, being self-aware, they drew the connection between actual inner true punk impulses and the punk rock they were playing, understanding their own weakness and that bullying and scapegoating were in there lurking, sitting dangerously inside. But anyway, of all the great punk rockers, the Sex Pistols, who were maybe the greatest ("They make everyone else sound sick by comparison," said my friend Bill Routt), were the ones who were true nasty punks as much as they were about punk. They were the band that made punk safe for fag-bashers (fortunately only somewhat safe).* None of which explains why Johnny Rotten would shit his brains down the toilet and support Trump (apparently, Johnny can't tell a racist from a hole in the ground). If you want to turn to social affinity and group identification as an explanation, Johnny's loyalty is to real punks, not to punk rock. (Yes, there's no way to come up with a unitary reading of the word "punk" in this paragraph. It'd be a stupider paragraph if you could.) I doubt that many self-identified "punks" — those who embrace the music as part of their social identity — voted for Trump. These people veer left instead. If you go by social category, Trump got many of the rocks and hoods and greasers and grits and burnouts — at least, more than he should have — but few of the punks. (Among whites he got a significant amount of the jocks and middle managers, too, and their psyches are probably as much punk as the hoods' are, but that's not relevant to Johnny Rotten's social identification.) I doubt that many Trump voters had ever bothered to listen to punk rock (not counting the garage hits they heard way back); if they had, the aboutness would've stung them, and they'd have been repelled. Nonetheless, I think I can understand that what makes the Sex Pistols sound true and real to me, the screaming squalling blind attempt to stand against anything acceptable and settled that can get you by, is what makes a lying hollow pathological bully like Trump sound transgressive and therefore real and true and honest and substantial to a lot of his fans.

(1c) Of course Trump doesn't win if he gets only the punks. And my armchair analysis isn't based on any actual research of mine into "the Trump voter." As I said two sentences ago, there's more than one type of Trump voter, and individual voters are multi-faceted in their urges and ideas anyway (so a particular Trump voter can be more than one type). I'm actually doing two questionable things: (i) reading the characteristics of the voter off of the characteristics of what they voted for, rather than actually asking the voters who they are and why they like what they like; (ii) using a psychological model that can apply to an individual person to explain the behavior of a group of people (the punk types who voted for that punk Trump), as if the group were an individual writ large. Obviously I think the analysis kinda sorta works, or I wouldn't have made it. It's a strong hypothesis, punks voted for a punk, strong in my mind anyway, though maybe someone more knowledgeable could beat it down with an alternative. ("Strong" analysis? Seriously? How so? It tells you what most of you already know: (1) that I don't like Trump, (2) that I think many of his voters voted for a lot of what I don't like about him, even if they don't understand the policy implications, and (3) that he's a punk. You already knew that. He's a punk. It's maybe a correct analysis, but not strong, since it doesn't tell you anything you don't already know. Maybe it makes you think harder about punk rock, and what I write below maybe'll help you think harder about social class.)

(1di) Trump got more working-class whites than he was expected to )

(1dii) The terms hoods, greasers, grits, and burnouts as stand-ins for current social identities )

(1diii) The class systems in people's immediate experience are not an exact match for the upper-middle-working class grid )

(1div) They voted against Clinton because she's a student-council type )

(1dv) Kids who bombed out of the classroom still hurt by it )

(1e) Middle class divided )

(1f) Want to hurt people and feel good about hurting them )

(2) The failure of education )

(3a) Duncan Watts criticizes idea of 'representative agent' )

(3b) How would we measure 'punks voted for a punk'? )

(4) The principle of the inferred et cetera )

(5) Top 100 singles of 2016 )

(6) A punk votes for a brat )

(7) Etc. )
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Those enticed here by the promise of butch and sparklers may be disappointed that the title pretty much only applies to the Dev vid — though I've not looked so thoroughly as to guarantee you won't find butch and sparkle throughout.

"Born To Wub" was another prospective title; it too only really goes with the Dev track.

Next year I'll just post my favorite Dev song, and announce, "Dev Contains Everything."

Was also thinking of calling this, "You Already Know Who It Is"; I've made this list into a YouTube playlist, and those are the words Silentó introduces himself with, on the first track.

And after all, you already knew I was gonna give you Dev, and T-ara, and K-pop. In 2012 I simply called my half-year list, "More Songs From K-pop, Dev, and Cassie." A year earlier I'd called it "Dev Like Cassie."

But there's also wub in Vince Staples' "Norf Norf": wobble that's disembodied from a beat. And there's wub deep in Ash-B's larynx.

1. Silentó "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)"
2. Ash-B "매일"
3. The Seeya with Le "The Song Of Love"
4. Azin "Delete"
5. HyunA ft. Jung Ilhoon "Roll Deep (Because I'm The Best)"
6. Dev "Parade"

7. Rihanna "Bitch Better Have My Money"
8. Crayon Pop "FM"
9. ZZBEst "랄랄라"
10. Red Velvet "Ice Cream Cake"
11. Titica "Você Manda Fogo"
12. Ash-B "What's Real"
13. Daphne And Celeste "You And I Alone"
14. SHINee "View"
15. Ash-B "누구야"
16. 4minute "Crazy"
17. Jason Derulo "Cheyenne"

18. Lil Mama "Sausage"
19. The-Dream "Cedes Benz"
20. BiSH "BiSH: On A Night When Stars Are Twinkling"
21 through 40, KISS n Clover Z through Brigitte )
41 through 60, A$AP Rocky through Oh My Girl )

I've scattered Ash-B tracks all through the list, like dandelion seeds. Can't find English translations, so the adventure for me is her voice. She begins "매일" with darkly insistent eighth notes, then she's pushing the main beat hard, then she's relaxing into the conversational, which she's then pushing into even more insistence.

There were no Cassie singles, so Sofi De La Torre was awarded the Cassie Ventura Honorary Remote-Achiness Fellowship for 2015.

"Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" at number 1 demonstrates the influence on this list of the elementary-school gym class. See also "Hit The Quan" at number 54.

See also the fact that this list is three months late.

Taylor, Kendrick, Pungdeng-E, Derulo, SHINee, cultural interpenetration? )
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Lizzy's advice on how to acquire the voice she uses for Orange Caramel and for trot (but not for After School):

Keep nagging at your mom when you're little.
Demonstrated here, with variants here (happy) and here (annoyed)* (h/t David Frazer).

I'm even more behind than usual (mid-year list to come, once again w/ Lizzy). I keep promising research on After School, never get there. So just several adjectives for you:

After School, who were kinda all over in their early years, have settled into smooth vocals, effortlessly poignant, when required, but holding rough rhythms under their hood. One of the few K-pop groups to sound as good in Japanese as Korean. Meanwhile, Orange Caramel's** rampaging cuteness conquers all, style atop style. No social insights from me. Cuteness doesn't play in North America, probably for good reason, but that doesn't mean we're living our lives better than South Koreans are living theirs.

After School "Triangle"

Orange Caramel "Catallena"

*The hashtag is #twang_Lizzy.

**Orange Caramel is a subunit, consisting of three members of After School: Nana, Raina, and Lizzy.
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Am more ambivalent about "Chick Chick" than the high ranking indicates, given the social inequity underlying the song: the vocals are utterly pedestrian during the cutesy "mǔ jī mǔ jī mǔ jī mǔ jī" stuff and during the rap; the track only starts to cook when the screaming and the chicken clucking and the cackling let loose. It's then that it goes to syncopated excitement, a great visceral speed chase — really penetrates the nervous system, sorta like Bob Quine's guitar lines back in the Voidoids. But my needing to reach so far back for an example, and to guitar sounds rather than singing, leads me to this disturbing conclusion: Chickens are now more credibly penetrating than human beings are. Oh yeah, and if this list and my own viscera are representative (big "if," since they're quite possibly not, and if I'd listened to more hip-hop and rock and banda* maybe I'd know this), women are more credibly penetrating than guys are, women are more credibly tough than guys are, women are more aggressively cute than guys are, women front for rock music better than guys do, women front for heartbreak better than guys do, etc. But I've been worrying about this for years, every time I post one of these lists. And since I'm a glass-is-half-empty kind of a guy, I don't attribute this to women being good but rather to guys being lousy. And it isn't that I believe males no longer have talent, but rather that they're not finding musical models that work for them — as singers and front men, that is; when the spotlight's not on, guys are there contributing to the adventure, as instrumentalists, songwriters, dancers, impresarios, owners. Actually, the boybands are great dancers. And as for "not finding models that work for them," what's really — or merely — evident in this list is that guys are not finding models to make music that works for me. Boybands are doing fine among the fans. I'd have ranked boybands Vixx and Infinite higher if the singers had pulled off the high emotion, but the songs are gripping nonetheless.

Oh yeah, and I'm also pissed off that it's mainly young women and young men on my list (even my token trot track is by a relative youngster), but I've harangued about that before too.

I'll note that celebrated chickenphobe HyunA kicked butt this year (as well as displaying, slapping, and embracing butt (of more than one species)), and was somewhat penetrating back in 2011 deploring chickens. And that A Pony Named Olga are male human beings, not ponies.

Bold for tracks I added since October 1.

1. Wa$$up "Jingle Bell"
2. The Chainsmokers "#Selfie"
3. HyunA "Red"
4. BiS "STUPiG"
5. Kate Nash "Sister"
6. Courtney Love "Wedding Day"
7. Orange Caramel "So Sorry"
8. Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q "2 On"
9. Nicki Minaj "Lookin' Ass Nigga"
10. Crayon Pop "Uh-ee"
11. Orange Caramel "My Copycat"

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12. After School "Shh"
13. Shakira ft. Rihanna "Can't Remember To Forget You"
14. A Pony Named Olga "Funny What You Pray"
15. Wang Rong "Chick Chick"
16. Vixx "Error"

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17. Future ft. Pharrell, Pusha T & Casino "Move That Dope"
18. T-ara "First Love"
19. Puer Kim "Manyo Maash"
20. Danity Kane "Bye Baby"
21. Badkiz "Ear Attack"
22. PungDeng-E "잘탕 (잘 시간이 어딨어)"
23. GP Basic "Black Bounce"
24. Serebro "Ya Tebya Ne Otdam"
25. Dal★shabet "B.B.B (Big Baby Baby)"
26. Ca$h Out "She Twerkin"
27. Crayon Pop "C'mon C'mon"
28. Arcade Fire "We Exist"
29. The Hold Steady "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You"
30. Gabylonia "Tirano"

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31 through 70 )

By the way, I'm only half-joking about the credibility of chickens — not that chicken sounds are inherently credible, but if it's Wang Rong herself doing the chicken vocals — and I think it is — the chicken voice unleashes something in her that she can't do otherwise in anything close to her own voice, at least not in the several tracks of hers I've listened to on YouTube. (But, given that Wikip says she's been putting out music since the early '00s, I've hardly got an overview of her work. This one's nice enough, this one's got some interesting voice maneuverings, and on this one she sings with authority.)

A Pony Named Olga )
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Singles 2014

1. Wa$$up – "Jingle Bell" – Mafia
2. Chainsmokers – "#Selfie" – 604/Dim Mak
3. HyunA – "Red" – Cube Entertainment
4. BiS – "STUPiG" – Avex Trax
5. Kate Nash – "Sister" – Have 10p
6. Courtney Love – "Wedding Day" – Cherry Forever
7. Orange Caramel – "So Sorry" – Pledis Entertainment
8. Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q – "2 On" – RCA
9. Nicki Minaj – "Lookin Ass Nigga" – Young Money/Cash Money
10. Crayon Pop – "Uh-ee" – Chrome Entertainment

Albums 2014

1. After School – Dress To Kill – Avex Trax – 15
2. Hong Jin Young – Life Note – Loen Entertainment – 15
3. Wa$$up – Showtime – Mafia – 15
4. Jiyeon – Never Ever – KT Music – 10
5. Kali Mutsa – Souvenance – Shock Music – 10
6. Infinite – Be Back – Woollim Entertainment – 10
7. Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams – Washington Square/Razor & Tie – 10
8. Kitty – Don't Let Me Do This Again – self-released – 5
9. Kelis – Food – Ninja Tune – 5
10. Vixx – Error – Jellyfish Entertainment – 5
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Crayon Pop seem to be occupying a social space that doesn't exist in America: not of the mainstream but with no apparent estrangement from the mainstream either, not even to the extent that the mainstream itself is estranged from the mainstream (being estranged from the mainstream is a mainstream attitude). And while Crayon Pop gathered a fanatic core audience before they hit big — people who traveled miles to the Crayon Pop appearances and chanted along with the guerrilla street performances — that audience seemed to be doting-uncle types, not connoisseur types. But then, what counts as "connoisseur" isn't set in stone. For instance, Sunday evenings are an unofficial car show in the parking lots along Federal Blvd. on Denver's Hispanic west side, people hopping into their vehicles and finding spots to show off. There are many venues for discerning eyes.

In any event, Crayon Pop seem to be into music more for the art of it and the process than for fame and fortune or even a career.* Going "trot" this year with "Uh-ee" (and dressing like aunties) fits this: the attitude is "What can we try next?" Makes me think of the otherwise very different "Gentleman," by Psy: not a followup to "Gangnam Style" so much as "What can I do to shift around and fake you out?" But Psy is coming from a well-trod social territory, the outsider hip-hop guy who breaks big but still wants to set the terms of discussion. Whereas with Crayon Pop it's more like, "What color should we paint our house now?" At least that's how Crayon Pop come across. So even if they are secret bohemians (Way did got to art school, for instance), that's not where they live in the public landscape.

Whether or not you think I'm right about Crayon Pop, and even if you don't pay attention to K-pop, I have this question:

Who else — anywhere, present or past — seems to be occupying a social space similar to the one I describe for Crayon Pop?

I'm thinking that certain potential stuff wouldn't count, the reason being it has too much of a chip on its shoulder and too much outsider status: early hip-hop dj's in the Seventies, for instance, or the custom car shows and stock-car races and demolition derbies of the early Sixties that Tom Wolfe analyzed and celebrated in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. Or maybe I'm wrong, and we should count these things.

Anyway, bohemia from nowhere near bohemia.

Also, we need a new term. "Bohemia" is played out. Care to coin one?

As delinquent lollipop girls in "Bing Bing," five months before fame:

Disco trot Hey Mister )

Opening for Gaga in Milwaukee )
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Was worried that some well-meaning copy editor at the Voice would not believe me when I listed "Wassup" as by Wassup and would change it to the other "Wassup." But they got it right (or more likely there weren't enough copy editors, well-meaning or otherwise). Some other oddness on the site, though: the first time I checked Matana Roberts' Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile, Chuck Eddy wasn't listed as having voted for it, though he had. But a few minutes later, his name was on there.

Not enough ballots from The Singles Jukebox.

I made no comments this time.

1. Crayon Pop - "Bar Bar Bar" - Chrome Entertainment
2. Baauer - "Harlem Shake" - Jeffree's/Mad Decent
3. GLAM - "I Like That" - Big Hit Entertainment
4. will.i.am ft. Britney Spears - "Scream & Shout" - will.i.am/Interscope
5. MBLAQ - "Smoky Girl" - J.Tune Camp
6. EvoL - "Get Up" - Stardom
7. Cassie ft. Rick Ross - "Numb" - self-released
8. Wa$$up - "Wa$$up" - Mafia
9. Tiny-G - "Minimanimo" - GNG Productions
10. Gaeko & Choiza & Simon D & Primary - "난리good!!! (AIR)" - Amoeba Culture

1. After School - First Love EP - Pledis Entertainment - 15
2. Orange Caramel - Orange Caramel - Avex - 15
3. D-Unit - Affirmative Chapter.1 EP - D-Business Entertainment/Windmill Media - 13
4. Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile - Constellation - 13
5. Kate Nash - Girl Talk - Have 10p - 10
6. SNSD - Love & Peace - Nayutawave - 10
7. Kitty - D.A.I.S.Y. rage EP - self-released - 9
8. Cassie - RockaByeBaby - self-released - 5
9. Sturgill Simpson - High Top Mountain - High Top Mountain/Relativity - 5
10. will.i.am - #willpower Deluxe Edition - will.i.am/Interscope - 5

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Tracks that stand out as being less like most of the others on this list:

Wa$$up "Wa$$up" and "Jingle Bell": Like a lot of K-pop, this music draws on American hip-hop. But unlike a lot of K-pop this doesn't sound like K-pop, but rather like American jumprope pop.

Tren-D "Candy Boy": Like a lot of K-pop, this music draws on Italodisco. But unlike a lot of K-pop this doesn't sound like K-pop; it sounds like Italodisco.

Qri "Do We Do We," Boram "Maybe Maybe," Lim Kim "All Right": Not that these three are that similar to each other, but each is from an interesting area of smooth, "All Right" more upmarket, "Do We Do We" and "Maybe Maybe" b-side fluff from T-ara's bench warmers.

After School "Heaven": Smoothly sashays atop the nonsmooth.

Stromae "Papaoutai": Belgian Afro-dance (and family drama).

Baauer "Harlem Shake" and Psy "Gentleman": Relentlessly nondevelopmental mindfucks.

Vick Allen "I'm Tired Of Being Grown": Southern soul.

The Civil Wars "The One That Got Away": Dinner-date folkies let loose with tasteful tears.

Within Temptation "Paradise (What About Us?)": Goth metal (if that's what it's called these days).

Tom Keifer "Solid Ground": Hair metal, which isn't considered metal these days, and fuck these days.

Omar Souleyman "Warni Warni": Syrian wedding music on a speed-racer track.

SNSD "I Got A Boy": Shifts forms, won't establish a plot, shoots its self-conscious audaciousness at us with awesome persistence.

Zhanar Dugalova "Kim Ushin?": A Kazakh grabs the rolling happy spirit of "Behind The Groove"–era Teena Marie, successfully disregarding the fact that Teena Marie was a virtuoso and she isn't.

Fidlar "Cheep Beer": Cheap beer.

1. Crayon Pop "Bar Bar Bar"
2. Baauer "Harlem Shake"
3. GLAM "I Like That"
4. will.i.am ft. Britney Spears "Scream & Shout"
5. MBLAQ "Smoky Girl"
6. EvoL "Get Up"
7. Cassie ft. Rick Ross "Numb"
8. Wa$$up "Wa$$up"
9. Tiny-G "Minimanimo"

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10. Gaeko & Choiza & Simon D & Primary "난리good!!! (AIR)"
2YOON through Kacey Musgraves )
Psy through Fidlar )
Girl's Day through T.O.P )
Ben Pearce through Ray Foxx )

Flogging a live animal )
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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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Here's a slight rewrite of my Pazz & Jop comments. I'd whipped the comments out in three hours right at deadline, and I liked the result: power and emotion maybe because of the rush. But owing to the speed, some ambiguities were left in, and some useful details were left out. So I've tweaked the sentences a little, and expanded a few.

Budokan )
People decided to imagine where the rage comes from )

A young woman, a member of a K-pop group, writes a tweet that goes, "The differences in levels of determination ^ ^. Let us all have determination." And several members of the same group take to twitter to concur, or re-tweet, with Jiyeon's concurrence maybe taking on an edge, the phrase, "I applaud you, acting genius," seeming like sarcasm. Hwayoung, the group member whom these tweets are apparently directed at, tweets back, "Sometimes determination alone is not enough." And from here the Internet takes over, seeing this as a set of girls ganging up on another girl. And videos that were obviously faked or even more obviously taken out of context begin to appear, to support this narrative, of a gang of girls bullying another girl: At the K-pop track-and-field events Hwayoung's umbrella is blowing apart in the rain and none of the other girls are helping her. Next image, they're force-feeding her while on a Japanese game show, jamming a rice cake into her mouth. (Amazing that that's taken as bullying; I mean, it's a game show, it's done for laughs, it was broadcast on TV, when it aired thousands saw without seeing any bullying; a few minutes earlier in the very same episode, Jiyeon, supposedly Hwayoung's main antagonist, also had a rice cake shoved into her mouth. Of course, the antis who distributed this as evidence of bullying edited that part out.) And we've got a photo where Hwayoung was on one escalator and the other girls were on another, definitive proof that she was ostracized, shunned.

So, there's a story basically creating itself out of air, but a story that's already in so many people, waiting for an excuse to take to the air.

Make the other members suffer as well )

Singles )

Albums )

Music Bank )
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34 Pazz & Jop voters listed Korean music on either their singles or albums ballot, as opposed to last year's lonely 18, but if you subtract out those whose only Korean vote was for K-pop's first American hit, the number falls to 10. I won't say that "Gangnam Style" failed to whet anyone's appetite or stoke anyone's curiosity, since I don't know how many people's long lists contained Korean content that didn't make their top tens.* And our sample size is pretty small anyway.

Here's who voted for K-pop that wasn't just "Gangnam Style."** I've put in bold those who didn't vote K-pop in 2011 (though Marsh and Considine included stuff from 2011). "Paparazzi" and "Sherlock" are in Japanese. Luke McCormick is new to me.

Vijith Assar - Ga-in "Bloom"
Justin Chun - Dal★shabet Bang Bang, Dal★shabet "Have, Don't Have," SNSD "Paparazzi"
JD Considine - TaeTiSeo "Twinkle," Psy "Gangnam Style," 2NE1 "I Am The Best," Wonder Girls "Like This"
Chuck Eddy - Trouble Maker "Trouble Maker," Psy "Gangnam Style"
Kevin John - G-Dragon "Crayon"
Calum Marsh - Miss A Touch, SNSD The Boys, Miryo Miryo AKA Johoney
Luke McCormick - G-Dragon "Crayon"
David Cooper Moore - Sistar "Alone," Orange Caramel Lipstick, Orange Caramel "Lipstick," T-ara "Lovey-Dovey."
Brad Shoup - SHINee "Sherlock" (Japanese ver.)

This is assuming I didn't miss anything.

I voted for 14 K-pop tracks and albums, which I admit is an absurd number. Last year I voted for 12 (well, 11 for K-pop and 1 for trot).

Nothing from K-pop other than "Gangnam Style" got more than 2 votes, unlike last year, when GD&TOP's "High High" got 3, HyunA's "Bubble Pop!" got 5, and 2NE1's "I Am The Best" got 7. I'm surprised Sistar's "Alone" didn't get anyone other than Dave and me.

Affinity list )

Footnotes )
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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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A track I voted for made the Freaky Trigger Top Forty, Dev's "Take Her From You"! In the 2011 poll a track I voted for made the Top Four, so this should be no big deal — except I'm sure nothing I voted for this time will make the Top Four. In fact, I was surprised anything I voted for made it at all.

But to the point of this post. Is there anyone out there who can parse the lyrics to Dev's "Take Her From You"? Who the "you" is seems to change, therefore confusing me as to who is being taken from whom, and where she's being taken!

Thank you.

The other point of this post is that I love everything about Dev's demeanor. She's absolutely her own strange-shaped self! She's absolutely confident! She's absolutely self-aware!

Also, she's got the sexiest singing in music. Tied with Cassie, anyway.
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Whiffing )

1. Taylor Swift "Red"
2. Miranda Lambert "Fastest Girl In Town"
3. Charles Esten & Hayden Panettiere "Undermine"
4. Lionel Richie ft. Jennifer Nettles "Hello"
5. Taylor Swift "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
6. Eden's Edge "Too Good To Be True"
7. Eric Church "Creepin'"
8. Kelly Clarkson ft. Vince Gill "Don't Rush"
9. Luke Bryan "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye"
10. Kix Brooks ft. Joe Walsh "New To This Town"

Other categories )

COMMENTS: Quandary ) "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" has the sort of glorying in self-deception that country lyricists and singers drool over; and even if the sound is fundamentally pop, there's a clarity in the arrangement that likely comes from country. Meanwhile, "Red" is the first time Taylor's written what sounds like an actual teenybopper song, as if it had been created during an elementary school exercise in beginning poetry. That's meant as a huge compliment.

Hayden Panettiere, who as a true teenpopper had thoroughly bored me, suddenly has a bead on my emotions. Talk about finding her voice.

I don't know if "Don't Rush" is a direction for Kelly Clarkson or just a blip. She was confused and feckless on her last two albums, the wrong big blast of this person's and that person's pop rock. And now here she is in '70s middle-of-the-road warmth and pain, and the richness of her pipes returns. And Lionel Richie, who to a good extent defined '70s middle-of-the-road warmth and pain, provides a terrific setting for Jennifer Nettles' half sandblaster of a voice, lushness that doesn't lose its gristle.

Lots of great male voices in country, which is fortunate because in every other genre I pay attention to the men tend to sound ridiculous.

Frank Kogan

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Frank Kogan's Pazz & Jop Ballot 2012

1. T-ara "Lovey-Dovey" (Core Contents Media)
2. Orange Caramel "Lipstick" (Pledis Entertainment)
3. Trouble Maker "Trouble Maker" (Cube Entertainment)
4. ChoColat "I Like It" (Paramount)
5. Dev "Take Her From You" (Universal)
6. Dev "In My Trunk" (Universal)
7. Cassie "King Of Hearts" (Bad Boy/Interscope)
8. Wonder Girls "Like This" (JYP Entertainment)
9. Sistar "Alone" (Starship Entertainment)
10. T-ara "Day By Day" (Core Contents Media)

1. T-ara Funky Town EP (Core Contents Media) 13 points
2. T-ara Mirage EP (Core Contents Media) 13 points
3. ChoColat I Like It, The First Mini Album EP (Paramount) 12 points
4. Neil Young Americana (Reprise) 10 points
5. Miss $ Miss Us? EP (Brand New Music/Windmill Media) 10 points
6. Serebro Mama Lover (Columbia Europe) 10 points
7. E.via E.viagradation Part 1. (Black & Red) EP (Dline Art Media) 8 points
8. DJ Bedbugs Teenpop Lock And Drop Volume 2 [self-released] 8 points
9. Miss A Touch EP (JYP Entertainment) 8 points
10. Orange Caramel Lipstick (Pledis Entertainment) 8 points

COMMENTS: Interesting the different ways the public reacts to mass shootings, depending on the setting, or on what story just happens to catch hold. Now, after those little kids were killed at Sandy Hook, it's about gun control and mental health. But back in 1999, with the Columbine shootings, the story was about teens bullying teens, the killers having responded to years of torment, the public decided. The psychology of the killers may have been no different from that of the man a few months earlier up in Greeley who'd walked into a disciplinary hearing and let blast rounds of fire, or the guy in L.A. a few months later who shot seventy bullets into a Jewish Community Center. But for Columbine, teens shooting teens, people decided to imagine where the rage comes from – one of the few instances where the public wondered what it felt like to be the shooters. One of the many notes put next to the crosses at Clement Park said to the two dead killers, "If only you could have held on for a couple of more months," the time till graduation.

When the Voice ran my Columbine piece, Doug Simmons forwarded me a bunch of emails they'd gotten in response to the shootings. I recall one of them being truly chilling: "After 50 years of oppression, this is payback." Mostly what I was reading, though, was the pain, everyone a former student, everyone seeming to have lived a perpetual gauntlet. Or that's how I remember them, maybe my own memory telling me stories.

Which I'll admit is an overdramatic intro to something that lacked violence, much less murder. But here goes:

Make the other members suffer as well )
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For the second straight year someone has reminded me in December that Mylène Farmer put out music this year, and of course I have to scramble to figure out where it goes on my end-of-year lists. Mylène, you have once again made a monkey of me.

(Two other tracks on Monkey Me are at least as good as this one: "Monkey Me" and "J'ai Essayé de Vivre...")
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My Pitchfork Vertebrates' List, Top Albums 1996–2011*

 photo Ashlee Simpson Autobiography cover.jpg

Saw Will Adams' email about his posting his Pitchfork list at the last second, was inspired to check on how last that second really was, began typing at 10:00 PM Mountain Daylight Time (deadline was midnight, some indeterminate time zone), and they cut me off at 10:15, when I'd gotten to exactly twenty but right before Aly & AJ Insomniatic, Arling & Cameron All-In, Marit Larsen Under The Surface, and Miranda Lambert Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Also missing was whatever I hadn't gotten around to exhuming from 1996 through 1998 (Bring It On soundtrack? [EDIT: Which was like 2000, actually]), plus whatever else I'd forgotten.

The order is somewhat accidental.

Funky Town was released January 3, 2012, now that I check.

*They're calling it "The People's List," but since that title is pretentious and juvenile, I came up with one that was just as juvenile but more novel; was originally going to call it "The Bipeds' List" but decided to show some backbone.
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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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