NOTES: While I do still deeply miss Jessica, I'm glad to see that SNSD's music is still fabulous without her. Additionally, this is one promotional cycle in which Tiffany is absolutely SLAYING. She's honestly never been a bias of mine, but she's been popping up on my radar all over the place in this cycle. I love it when promotional cycles end up showcasing members in a way that makes me love the ones I used to be ambivalent about. SM had me worried with Catch Me If You Can (the choreo was fun and I love hearing EDM in pop tracks, but it just wasn't up to SNSD snuff); and even Party wasn't quite up to the standard I was holding out for. Fortunately, the pre-release didn't set the standard for the album as a whole and honestly, this is quite solidly one of my very favorite SNSD full-album releases ever.
Lion Heart - The first time I listened to it was with the video release, and honestly, I wasn't sure what to make of it. Once I warmed up to the retro feel, I found it quite enjoyable. The lighthearted bubbliness of the rhythmic decorations has an undercurrent of energy that makes the dreamy harmonies and the smoothe melody feel bright and engaging. I found the 3-act aspect of the MV interesting, but odd in that the same song was used over and over, even though the tones of each chapter was very different and there are suitable songs to use included in the album. I think SM missed an opportunity there to get viewers hooked on the album's other tracks. I have to say, the Lion Heart Choreo is adorable and I would LOVE and official dance version. I Give it a 7/10: Me Gusta.
You Think - This one I had a knee-jerk reaction towards delight. It throws back to the Boys in just the right ways to make me squeal, but differs substantially enough to make You Think it's own fantastic experience. The glitz and glamour of the glamour shots in contrast to the streetwise slickness of the tunnel shots is GORGEOUS. In the same vein as Lion Heart, the dreaminess of the verses and the chorus is weighted by the energetic rhythmic elements playing just under the vocal tracks, the difference being that in Lion Heart the percussion adds a bubbliness and in You Think it brings a sassy insistence and a snarky push towards drama. SooYoung's rap breaks the smoothe lay of the melody up in a way I find a bit jarring, but that's a rather small complaint and it's the only one I have worth mentioning. HyoYeon's rap follows it up well and allows for the bridge to slide neatly into place behind it. Over all it's an aggressive and energetic track that's dripping with sophisticated sass. I Give it a 9/10: Blissful!
Party - As a pre-release track, it was okay. It felt a bit lackluster to me when it first came out, but over all it's a bubbly bright summertime celebration that has a great slide of casual energy that makes it delightfully appealing for just about any summer setting. It's beautifully spatialized and the harmonies move the melody sweetly along over the relaxed but still engaging bass and percussion lines.
One Afternoon - The first of the slower, softer songs, One Afternoon has a low key energy and a warm, jazzy softness that lets it slide over the ears in a way that's pleasantly casual. There's nothing in it that demands attention or makes your heart pound, but it's a sweet breath of easy listening that serves as a moment of calm on an energetic album.
Show Girls - This track tricks you into thinking it's going to be another clam track to follow One Afternoon, with sweet brassy tones that play well with the warm tones of the vocals. Then it drops into a high energy bustle with sassy swing of the unexpected with a refreshingly unique charm, before sliding back into the brassy cabaret vibe. It flips back and forth with a carefully timed playfulness that gives the track a delightful whirlwind feel and keeps it from feels scattered or cluttered. I didn't like it as much in the Japanese, but in Korean it's good.
Fire Alarm - Another of the softer tracks, but this one has no shortage of sass or aggression despite it's dreaminess and the halo of warmth in the harmonies adds to the undercurrent of energy by pulling the vocal line away from the thrum of the bassline, adding a stretch of tension that contributes significantly to the punch of the coolly engaging vibe.
Talk Talk - Taking off from the softness of Fire Alarm this track slows things down further, but it amps up the tension and creates a demanding aching in the swing of the melody. The way the sound of the rain falling and the sound of the object of the singer's affection are compared is very sweet, being that both are rhythmically powerful, deep, and comforting. It's a sentiment that rings through the track with the slow and smoothe evolution of the rhythmic elements. The sharp and clean movements of the vocal lines add tension in smoothe waves that belies how narrow the vocal range is. Keeping things confined, keeping the sound of the piano acting as bassline right within the vocal range with the deeper bass being kept to undertones and synth-y echoes, and keeping the high whine of the synth below the highest notes of the vocals, makes things feels deliciously calm and close; like the wrap of a blanket around your shoulders in a thunderstorm. Of the slower songs, Talk Talk is easily my favorite.
Green Light - We move from my favorite slow song on the album to my favorite over all song on it. I suppose I have a weakness for SNSD and the words 'beep beep' because the last song they focused on those words remains to this day my absolutely favorite SNSD Japanese release. Green Light is a bouncy press of melodic excellence. The energy and tension is ramped up by the redoubling of the lyrics, each set of two acts as echos that get closer and closer together; and the sets come in a series with each couplet having more syllables than the last, and then sets of two become sets of three, all of which adds energy while keeping the line on a single note (it's due to the fact that there's no tonal change that the rhythmic change is felt so acutely). And then the note following the rapid syllabic redoubling is a swing up to an octave above the chorus, which makes it feel reaching and tense while keeping it smoothe and sweet.
Paradise - In a synthy slowdown, Paradise moves with a relaxed hum of energy that nicely compliments the album's songs in higher gear. Like Fire Alarm it's a smoothe and undemanding track that stands as something easy to listen to but otherwise a bit unremarkable. It's a great low key track and the bridge is absolutely lovely, giving the track a burst of energy it came close to lacking.
Check - Released with Party this track had me worried that the whole alum would be a lower key, more relaxed sort of release. With the context of the high gear tracks around it to settle my concerns, Check is a chill track worthy of attention. It's cool and collected, moving at an unhurried pace that feels quite alluring as it rides the funky beat below.
Sign - This track keeps the funk of Check in play as it amps up the energy and pulls in the synth-riddled vocal harmonies from the rest of the album to add depth to the spatialization. It's an interesting track that's well worth listening to, but it rests on the edge of experimental in a way that doesn't actually push any bounds, but doesn't feel wholly normalized either. I think it's a track that gives a cool aesthetic to the album, but I would guess that it might feel more at home on an f(x) album than an SNSD release.
Bump It - This one is set to finish off the album and it successfully makes sure that Lion Heart wraps up strong. It's another one that seems like it's going to be a slow set, but it pulls in the energy and ties all the aesthetic points of the album together with huge harmonic swells and funky rhythms in both the vocals and the percussive decorations. On it's own it's a solid track, energetic and sassy, but lower key than it could be and cool with a clean brightness. As the final wrap up of this particular album, it's absolutely fantastic. Every single stylistic throw or experiment touched on in the entire album makes an appearance here in a succinct and delightfully connected reprise of the release. It's delightful.
I Give them a 9/10: Blissful!
Underwhelming, as Usual...
EXO has only ever once really impressed me with a release, but I definitely enjoy how they routinely make catchy tracks in Chinese, it's easily the best thing about them. This MV's been getting a lot of flack from the international community for the mismatched sporting gear, the artsy-weird aesthetics gone wild, and the fact that nothing at all in the MV feels even remotely relevant... At least when SM's box comes into play there's no expectation for anything to happen outside of that box. This seemed like it was trying for symbolism or a story and just never quite got there... It's visually appealing, but it's definitely not very good in the wider scheme of things.
The track itself is lovely, nothing ground breaking, but it's catchy and genuinely great to listen to. The Chinese version is my favorite and it's generally just a good song that's not great, but was never expected to be. I like the follow-up less than I like Call Me Baby because even with the main promo's weird choreo, the track was just a bit more interesting and at least I could tell what was supposed to be happening in the video. There's not actually a single moment in watching this video that I have any ability to confidently explain what's going on or even to guess how the image matters in relation to any other image. And considering the fact that I have a COLLEGE DEGREE in Media Analysis... that's unsettling... and kind of annoying, to be honest.
BoA is BACK!
BoA is one of the undisputed QUEENS of Kpop, and she's been leading the industry into brave new waters for fifteen years. Kiss My Lips is the title track on her 8th studio album and it is a visual extravaganza! Honestly, BoA has never been responsible for too many of my favorite musical releases, but I admire her as a person far beyond the ability of words to express. Kiss My Lips is not my favorite track of the season, nor is the MV made for it on I consider to be anything terribly spectacular. It is however, still pretty awesome.
The massive feather fans make the perfect unusual accessory for a fanfare to the Queen. BoA looks absolutely gorgeous in every single shot, the hair and make-up styling is incredible and her outfits are all beautifully dramatic. I'm not a huge fan of the choreography, it just seems a bit choppy and honestly rather awkward.The track itself is pretty fabulous, catchy and smooth and arranged to show off BoA's strong vocals while sustaining a whispery seductive mystique. It's a lovely song and I'm sure that it'll make it into my personal playlist. The MV is an artsy sort of beautiful. It's not really my cup of tea but it's very well done and it plays off BoA's image very well.
Over all I think it's quite fabulous. It's not my favorite, but I can acknowledge when something is done well even if I don't particularly like it. BoA is an undeniably fantastic artist and SM always does well with her.
BoA Shines as Always in this cute MV!
BoA's English is beautiful and it meshes fabulously with her Korean voice, many people speak the two languages with very different vocal qualities and it's often a struggle to get them to slide smoothely together. I'm not a huge fan of the washed-out colors but still, it's an artsy spring release by a sweetheart Kpop queen filmed on sunny days out of doors, so I don't have much choice in the matter. The track is light and sweet with BoA's smooth vocals on full display and a kickin' cool energy that effectively highlights the summer-time playfulness. The over all MV is adorable and sweet, and the track is doubly so. There's nothing ground-breaking in it, but I can't help but to feel the butterflies of shy delight portrayed. I honestly have nothing negative or critical to say, though it's certainly not something I have endless words of praise for. Over all, it's cute, catchy, and beautifully care-free.
People love Exo... and I still just don't get it...
Don't get me wrong, they've got skill and I've got a few members I particularly enjoy, but SM has rarely used any of Exo's talent well and their releases are usually just plain blah. I've been waiting to review this MV in case another one came out to make it tie into the whole #pathcode thing of awesome teasers that seem to have turned out to be nothing more that promises of false hope... I might go though the #pathcode videos and explain their individual awesomeness, and why their lack of tie-in to the MV is just so disappointing, but that seems like a lot of effort considering the fact that I'd be discussing a disappointment rather than praising something I'm actually excited about... In related news, I'm regretting the fact that I waited so long to make this review because I had a beautifully summational quip about how this release is both lovely and epically disappointing at once, and now I can't recall it.
The track itself is catchy, and quite delightful over all. It's pretty well balanced and spatialized, and it moves well as the melody progresses. There's enough variance in the lyrics to keep it interesting and yet enough consistency to make it easy to sing along to; it really is a fairly well crafted pop piece. There's no deeper meaning or underlying current of power to keep it resonating after it ends. Other than the catchiness there's nothing in it to demand attention. If I wasn't paying attention and it came on shuffle, it wouldn't be enough to register distinctly, whereas others (even others made by Exo) make you look up for a moment at pay attention.
The styling is great, beautifully keyed in to both the settings and to the personalities presented by each member. 13 people is a lot to keep track of and despite the fans' ease with it, carefully delineating outfits are a welcome aid to casual observers. The choreography is less suited to... well anything. The movements are awkward and stilted, not because Exo is, but because the movements are too sharp to take shape and because they move outside the lyrics and too on-point to the rhythms (seriously, pausing for a beat so that a crotch-grab is an isolated on-beat occurrence seems just in bad taste). Sometimes movements that are unrelated to the rhythms or words works, but here it just feels awkward: just random whacking and hand-waving for the sake of being impressive rather than relevant. The gratuitous crotch-grabbing is just annoying, and the gratuitous hip-bump/crotch-rolls are worthy of an eye-roll. There are aspects of the choero that I do enjoy, when the members of the group are utilized as effects (I'm mostly thinking of the bit around 2:40 as the bridge rolls). Over all though, it's just there, impressive but not in a way that makes it instantly recognizable...
Still, the over all MV is pretty good. Catchy song, gorgeous guys, neat camera tricks; it's just not enough.
Part Two: Still Interesting, Still Not Impressive...
Automatic's base problems continue in Ice Cream Cake. This one has the additional problem of being achingly similar to B1A4's Solo Day... I wouldn't consider it truly plagiarized, but the aesthetic is just too similar to discount. They're not achieving the same effect, but with Solo Day only being a few seasons old... it just seems like another of SM's shortcuts. Which isn't criminal exactly, but is certainly not admirable.
On it's own, Ice Cream Cake is quite lovely. I like the tie to the red velvet cake that comes up at the sound of the band's name, and the song itself is fairly good. There's a delightfully eerie cutesy-ness to it that I deeply enjoy. It's a nicely rounded song that moves fairly well and it's quite catchy. I like it much better than I do the Red Velvet tracks I've heard. The music-box element is especially delightful. I like the styling and the choreography, insofar as I can like anything generic. It has a cool twist of imagery though, juxtaposing the sweet charm of the visual against the track's eerie cant. The overt sexiness laced within the 'cute' imagery gives the visuals the same eerie feel as the track has. I enjoy that, though I'm not sure it's really what SM was going for. The only social comment I can pull out of it is that it's creepy as hell to sexualize little girls, and equally creepy to infantilize grown women, both of which are things that SM has never seemed to have any sort of problem with... So I'm at a loss.
In short, the MV is full of recycled material and packed full of a vague, artsy ambiance that seems to be more akin to what SM has attempted to promote f(x) with (which is yet another slight against Red Velvet's sunbaes that SM is forcing them to commit). The ending is abrupt, and jarringly dissonant in a way that lacks a satisfying cadence. It's a catchy track with strong choreo, so I count it as a solid release.
It's Certainly Interesting...
Red Velvet hasn't had the best series of first impressions on me. Their previous release was okay but the girls were startling in how similar they looked to each other. Having all of them go blonde for this release was definitely not a wise decision on SM's part (honestly, I think it would have been really cool if this 'group' was actually all one girl, just pretending to be four, now five, different people). Also, the addition of Yeri so recently after a debut... it's not something I approve of. They should have at least had a year as four before SM began messing with the dynamics. And on a similar note... it's atrociously unfair that Red Velvet has an official fanclub name while poor f(x) has been waiting for SIX YEARS. f(x) is a far superior group to Red Velvet on all counts, which should be a comment of no offense to the rookies. Red Velvet simply has done nothing to deserve the special treatment they're receiving and I disapprove. Highly.
In regards to their recent release, Automatic is actually worthy of attention. It's a nice an jazzy low-key track with a smooth sweep of sounds that envelop the listener. It moves well and but it doesn't evolve over the course of the track, and none of the movement is profound or resonant in any way. It doesn't show off the girls' vocal capabilities, but I will admit to enjoying the whispery quality of the vocal lines in reference to the instrumental. Power vocals probably wouldn't sit nicely here anyway.
I like the music video, over all. Outside of the whole they're-all-blonde thing, the styling is gorgeous. The Choreography is fun and quite well-suited to the track. The vibe of the music video as a whole is awesome and quite unique, like a musical theater sort of aesthetic which is fantastic. I also like the visual ties to their next MV, Ice Cream Cake, via the car and such. It is a wonderful connection, but it's only a dressing rather than a significant basis for assessment. All in all, I do like it. I don't love it, but I do like it.
Hypnotic and Chilling
Donghae and Eunhyuk have always been one of my favorite units in Kpop and each of their official sub-group releases has validated that favoritism, and this is no exception. The video is a heartbreaking depiction of the desire to forget all the happy memories of a relationship, because after a cherished relationship ends, those happy memories cause more pain that the unhappy ones. At first the images make it seem like it's just a normal therapy session or something, even the hint with the watch is pretty easy to overlook. The use of color and fracture effects to depict the memories that are slowly being erases is delightful. The camera spins on the choreo stage are wonderful as well, tying into how confused the world is getting as the past gets erased, even while showing the epic styling in full color. The alleyway scenes are doing a similar confusion effect to keep full color prominent, by having the neon lights blurry and falling in and out of focus. The over-exposed greyed-out imagery of the current point in time segments link the black-and-white past to an ever-more-dull present. And the video helpfully provides a final exposure of the nature of the 'therapy' place by showing the card for 'erasure', in case you missed the connection to the lyrics about forgetting at the fact that a creepy back alley is probably not the best place to find a therapist. The presentation of the card lets a viewer go back and watch it again with new eyes in the most delightful way.
Musically, the release is just as awesome, pulling a powerful drama out of a light backing track and smooth, soft vocals. It's spatialized well and there's just enough of an undertow provided by the repetitive trills of the low synth / piano line to give the track an urgency that plays well off the plaintive vocals. It moves well and evolves nicely and it's over-all a great track.
The styling's great, and the choreo's fun, though I wouldn't call it revolutionary (it still suits the video and the track perfectly well). The only thing I would consider changing is the very end when Donghae sees Eunhyuk walk out of his last session with no memories of his past relationship. I think it would have been interesting for him to see that and decide not to forget, just to make it a bit more interesting (like have him look at the erasure card in his hand and then dropping it and walking away rather than heading in for his own session). I like how it currently ends though, so it's not a deal breaker, but I do think it would make an interesting statement.
I Give it an 8/10: Fabulous!
Crazy Mess or Cultural Critique?
There is a HELL of a lot going on in this MV and some of it is really not all that slick. There's a ton of good stuff going on, but there's a lot that I'm disappointed in as well. I keep waffling back and forth. Junsu's voice is unquestionably one of the best in Kpop, but it's usage here doesn't make it obvious... And while there's a lot of gorgeous symbolism in the visuals, the way they're strung together without exposition leaves me less than impressed... Arguably, it's a flashy, but poignant critique of the whole nature beneath Idol culture, one I personally find unduly antagonistic. In order to critique it fairly, I think I should start by explaining what on earth is happening in it and to that end, I've moved most of this piece over to the Editorials section. READ HERE.
However, I do still want to review it, because I'm not terribly pleased with it. Over all, it's a fairly well-done MV with gorgeous imagery. The choreo is weird, ill-suited for its placement in the MV and not terribly well-suited to much in the visual arena nor the sonic landscape of the song. The video would really be much better without it. The song is beautiful and it ties well to the action of the story, but it hardly shows off Junsu's voice... melodically, it doesn't really evolve or mature, harmonically, there's almost nothing in the overdubs outside of a vague choral effect and some reverb, and lyrically, it's pretty empty save for the rap (and even that is mostly poignant statements with generalizations)... there's really not much in it. It's great BGM for a dramatic story MV though, which makes me wish there was just a titch more explanation in this... it can't stand alone in any sort of completeness without an understanding of Junsu's stance on SM and the Idol music culture (that he's ironically playing right into). It's just not... whole. I keep waffling back and forth, between thinking it's good and thinking it's not. When you look at any singular aspect, the reaction is very polarized. The song is great to listen to, but there's really nothing in it. The MV's symbolism is so beautifully specific, but it's hollow without additional knowledge. The choreography is cool for a stage performance, but it's so out of place and awkward in the MV... The list goes on.
It could be better, cleaner, more of a stand alone piece, but most of Junsu's fans have been with him for nearly a decade, so they'd have the background knowledge to attempt an interpretation of the MV's message. On it's own, with nothing else considered, it's not very good. But knowing a bit about what issues it speaks to... it's not all that bad honestly, and it gives a poignantly delivered commentary.
I Give It a 6/10: Good Job.
Crazy Comical, Killin' it with PIZZAZZ.
Amber has always been a brightly unique individual, particularly within the confines of the Kpop world. This release shows off her special flair while perfectly keeping the release within the expectations of the Kpop community. Not only that, it allows the concept of rap and hiphop to evolve within Kpop, which is an exciting feat in and of itself... It's so exciting that instead of putting a simple review of the MV up here, I've sent it over to the editorials section to explain it in detail! ^_~ (Find it HERE)
I Give it a 9.5/10: Divine!!
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