I’ve often asked myself why I haven’t let my blog become a tomb; why I don’t let it live as a monument to a past where my writing was alive and breathing, an organism within the changing environment of the Asian pop culture world. Nowadays I think of writing as an outlet for my own self. Whether or not it makes me happy, I think of my writing as a contribution to that which exists; it’s like that grass you walk past daily, and the dust on your feet you wash away every morning. It’s there now, and it will be there tomorrow. So on that note, here is some more K-pop to mull over.
Park Ji Yoon, “Tree of Life”
Park Ji-Yoon would fit magnificently in the New Yorker coined “mindie”–an artist with mainstream recognition who takes two steps backward to gain some indie-cred. Probably best known for the song “Coming of Age Ceremony,” Park Ji-Yoon has had little relevance as of recent years. However, much like Carly Rae Jepson would become well known for doing years later, Park Ji-Yoon decided to strip herself of obvious references of her “idol” past, and work up to releasing an incredible album that speaks to her potential in 2012, Tree of Life. While I first encountered Park Ji-Yoon in 2013 with the song “Mr. Lee” (one of those unexpected jams), it’s her previous release, “Tree of Life” that became my favorite song from her. I love that it takes the constraint inherent in Park Ji-Yoon’s voice as the song’s underlying tension. A growing tree spreads its roots in resistive soil and becomes all the stronger for it.
View is Younha’s true return to Japanese music since 2010, as this album (unlike People) contains her first set of Japanese songs since her legal battle with Lion Media. To be honest, I found the album a very sloppy breakout if it ever intended to be such a thing. It is sloppy not because the songs are bad; rather, it is the context by which they exist that is disheartening. Two out of five tracks are translated OSTs (some of her better ones, thankfully), and two out of three of the new songs are “color by the boxes” ballads, including the title track, “View.” With these four disappointments, we are left with exactly 1 song–“雨の香り”–and that is the single song has given me hope that Younha hasn’t abandoned what has made her my favorite Korean music act ever. Elegance in simplicity. It still amazes me how phrases linger by virtue of her timbre alone, and with the right melodies, even derivative works feel fresh and alive.
Red Velvet, “Cool World”
Red Velvet has become an interesting presence in K-pop, heralded for straddling between their predecessors’ f(x)’s hipster-cred and SNSD’s early, public-friendly pop-confections. However, what makes Red Velvet more than the intersection of two circles is the implementation of those two stylistic influences with the addition of a third frame of reference, the grace of Velvet. This third line leads to assertive R&B/Pop usually reserved for SME’s male group line climbing its way into Red Velvet’s repertoire. While tracks like “Automatic,” “Timeslip” and “Oh Boy” are more representative of that vocal pop, Red Velvet’s true standout from the first album is the synth-pop, cliche-ladden (tell me you haven’t heard the intro melody at least ten times), “Cool World,” a song that responds to their true fan base– young women. The lyrics talk about about “being different,” but unlike the song’s composition, the overused theme presents hints of something a bit more novel.
It feels different; I look at things differently Even if I feel like I’m left out of the world… ….If you’re a stranger somewhere else I’ll leave you a place here Although we’ve never met Don’t you feel that We’ve been close… ….Because I love myself; because I’m me I become the greatest best friend to myself.
The way “you” and “I” become convoluted with each other is surprisingly introspective; the twinge of melancholy that accompanies the lyrics through the melodic delivery adds depth to that overlapping persona: “I’m inviting you first, honestly.” “I shut out the world.” This isn’t just about “being different” — “Cool World” is about being introverted and becoming content with that facet of ourselves. “Yes–I’m on a different wavelength. Yes, I’m by myself. No, I won’t find myself any less happy because I need to ‘close the world’s eyes for a bit,’ and deal with the many shadows of myself.” That kind of message, and the vocals that can complement it, is something I would love to see more of in K-pop.
(Of course I highly doubt that all of that was intended, but at least there is room for me to believe that it is.)
Big Bang, “Loser”
At some point I started looking at the ground more than the sky…
…When I stop wandering at the end of this road I hope I can close my eyes without regrets.
Wonder Girls, “One Black Night”
The Ye-Eun penned “One Black Night” is a characteristic sample of her composing flair–detail-oriented, atmospheric, and rough around the edges. Reboot as a whole is a remarkable in its own right; the 1980s attached as the symbol of the collective as as each of the girls pull out their own songwriting flavors is practically genius. Maybe it’s my disenchantment with the Taylor Swift 1980s pop psyche, but the fact that Reboot has embraced that era on its terms has made me even more enthralled by 80% of its contents (There are duds, namely “Back” and in some aspects, “Oppa.”) “Unity in division” is the hallmark of a great album, and there isn’t an album in K-pop this year that has captured that as magnificently as the Wonder Girls have. With two home-runs in a row–the Wonder Girls are wonders indeed.
This is probably one of the underrated tracks from Kiss My Lips, and it’s a shame because it is nostalgia in a bottle, free for the taking. Yes, it’s underdeveloped outside of the chorus, but the dripping-faucet synth line pairs beautifully with the melody. it even has the plus of making BoA’s nasal an asset.
Jonghyun, “Skeleton Flower”
When Jonghyun’s Base arrived at the beginning of the year, the album audibly tried to diverge itself from Taemin‘s Ace, which was nothing more than a Shinee album tailored slightly to Taemin’s vocal presentation, and the Shinee identity. The connotation behind “tried” is of importance here, because Base didn’t succeed in that regard as an album. It was the unexpected popularity of the Jonghyun/Zion.T. penned “Dejá-boo” that opened a way towards real divergence on the stage.
Story Op.1 conveys the small steps that contribute to Jonghyun’s development of solo musical identity, and “Skeleton Flower” is a piece that breathes in and out by virtue of that statement of selfhood. Do I find that Story Op.1 will stand out against the crowd? Yes–not because of its quality, but for what Jonghyun gets to say though his first real album.
“Here I am. Here is where I’ve been. Look forward to what I’ll become.
1 | Leaving the poetry aside, “Haru Haru” stands out against “Loser” (despite the production-level advantage “Loser” has) for one main reason — the dynamic piano and orchestra/piano trade-off at its center. On the other hand, “Loser”‘s core is a 12 note piano line that doesn’t change for the entire song. To understand how boring this can get, ask any cello player to play their part in Canon in D for an hour and see if you come out alive.