Category Archives: reviews

[Review] A Few Critical Thoughts on Xia Junsu’s “Uncommitted”

AUGH. It’s so cheesy. SO CHEESY!!!

Honestly, sometimes I think K-pop companies need to hire me (or at least someone like me :X) as a consultant for their English-oriented productions.

The above video is a 43-second teaser for  Xia Junsu of JYJ’s new English-language song, Uncommitted. And here are the issues I have with it:

     1. Please, STOP PICKING words in English that are hard for Korean speakers to pronounce. Especially as the repeated title of the song. See mangled autotune pronunciation at 0:20.

     2. Ending shot where the couple is standing side-face to side-face – the expressions don’t match. His should be a lot more serious and smouldering to match her lost one and the muted vibe of the cinematography.

     3. Please find someone who writes well professionally for your YouTube channel. You’re setting up how people will understand your entertainer here. Current fans might not care, but any potential new audience you’re hoping to score with will.

     4. I’m probably reading too much into it at this point, but it’s starting to bother me that a lot of female figures in male K-pop music videos are non-Asian, usually white. It seems to play into the whole non-Asian superiority/beauty complex undercurrent.

It seems that something always gets skewed when Asian pop stars try to tailor things for the Western market – anyone remember the fiasco that was BoA’s original “Eat You Up” MV for America? Their production values are obviously high, but the companies often take things and run in the wrong direction.

I know I’m taking a pretty critical stance (and that I may sound like a snob), but I always do for these Asia-into-English forays. It’s because the general American audience is much less forgiving when you’re not in your native tongue, plus the fact that I know these entertainers could do a lot better if they actually had some grounded perspective from a non-insider/related-Korean person.

Bottom line: Less yes-men and strangely biased audience predictions, more honest feedback from the internationally minded of good taste. Holler if you know what I’m sayin’.

Feeling This: Baby Soul’s “남보다못한사이” feat. Wheesung

I’m a sucker for soul-influenced music and power ballads. And I love it when pop goes big and dramatic and tragic. K-pop music has the ability to do some of that really well, and so it’s no surprise that I’m feeling Baby Soul’s debut song, 남보다못한사이/Stranger.

It’s a high-tension R&B style track that shows off the emotion in Baby Soul’s vocals really well. I haven’t heard much by her before, and I actually wish they had left the song without the Wheesung features. He’s a great singer, but he seems out of place here. I find that his vocals interrupt the song and weigh it down.

I would love more soul singers like this to come out. K-pop has some great female soul singers, and I wish they would all get together and do a collaboration. I could see it really putting them in the forefront. Gumi, Navi, Lim Jeong Hee, Baby Soul…

Anyway, here’s a translation of the lyrics. And try and watch the MV to the end, I thought the ending shot was pretty well done.

Stuck in a Girly Haze: SNSD’s “The Boys”

This fall is supposed to be the return of many girl groups in K-pop. One of the frontrunners, nine-member SNSD (for 소녀시대 or Girls’ Generation), has recently released their song all over Youtube in both Korean and English versions.

I’m not really feeling either one, to be honest. I feel like I’m stuck in the rose-imprisoning glass cage from Beauty and the Beast while the beats shift between Britney-electronica and Gwen-Stefani-esque songspeak. As usual, the production value is up there for both video and audio, but other than that, it’s just another polished SM number. Not much maturation, freshness, growth or edge in the style or sound.

It’s also kind of a strange match, though the production does its best to make it work, so I’m not sure where the song will find a place. Despite its electric leanings, the slow tempo makes it difficult to take up as a club/dance track, and overall it lacks the catchiness of earlier hits like “Gee.” I can see it as cafe filler (Seoul is saturated with cafes) and used in some cover performances, but not much else. Maybe the major intent is simply to use it as a performance song, declaring SNSD’s presence, as SM continues to gear toward markets outside of Asia.

Any thoughts? Sound off!

Thoughts on 2NE1’s “Lonely”

Less than a month ago, YG’s main girl group 2NE1 released the digital single, “Lonely.” It’s a fun, fresh track, in two senses: It’s a nice contrast against the tide of poppy and/or electronic-based songs that has saturated the Korean gayo (domestic pop music) market, which YG is well aware of; people who have succeeded in pop music know that it’s as much about contrasting against what’s dominant in the market as keeping in mind the mainstream taste of the public, and YG’s top male group Big Bang also voiced their same intention of going against the electric tide with their recent release of “Tonight,” their fourth mini-album from February of this year. It’s also a different sound for the 2NE1 girls themselves, who rode the pop dance wave albeit with heavier beats.

However, I do have a few qualms with the song. You’ll notice that it’s an acoustic track, pretty much all string sounds with the guitar as the main and some background (synth?) orchestral strings. No rhythm instruments like drums or beat tracks. With this change in sound, the instrumental being literally instrumental, I find the entry of some of the vocals to be too piercing for the song, especially CL’s. (She has the first few lines of the song, but also check out 0:25.)

When listening to the song for the first time, it seemed to me as if the girls couldn’t shake off their in-your-face club style of singing. Some would say that these vocal qualities are what make 2NE1 recognizable, and while this may be true, I think retaining the same singing approach is at the expense of a singer’s skill to gauge a song as well as compromising the song itself. It is understandable to employ a forceful, even, penetrating technique when you’re backed by boomy basses and rainbow synths, but for a more sensitive song, I think the sound could have been adjusted to reflect this change while still remaining strong (like at 1:47). Instead, the voice of member Sandara Park (0:21), who has the weakest vocals of the group, comes off as the most fitting, although Minji’s vocals (0:11) are a nice medium.

Actually, I find the most enjoyable part of the song to be the lyrics. While typical “lonely” songs sung by pop groups are talking about being abandoned by or apart from the other party, 2NE1’s “Lonely” is expressing the feelings of loneliness and restlessness even when you’re in a caring relationship. It kind of follows in the vein of American female singers’ “gentle independence” songs, e.g. Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone.” After understanding the lyrics, I found the content really refreshing and interesting. In that respect, “Lonely” is really different and rather mature compared to other songs around. To listen to the song along with the lyrics and translation:

All in all, it’s a decent track that’s recognizable thanks to the titular chorus and YG magic. While I wasn’t totally satisfied with the delivery of the song, the girls’ vocals are steady as ever, and they’re enjoying continued success with “Lonely.” It’s been playing everywhere, and I even woke up to it blasting near my apartment building one morning.

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