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Weekly K-pop faves: Feb. 12 – 18

k-pop kpop new songs releases tracks feb february 20182018 is shaping up to be a great year for K-pop releases, given how strongly artists have started out the year. This week in February was no different, with a few comebacks from many familiar names we’ve been waiting on for awhile even amid the Lunar New Year industry-wide hiatus. Here are some of our faves.

“Boss” by NCT U (Released Feb. 18)

I went into this NCT U “comeback” very upset because I’m a Ten stan. Even though SM Entertainment announced that U’s lineup was rotational, I couldn’t understand why they weren’t including the talented dancer once again. Those feelings were momentarily interrupted once the music video for “Boss” finally dropped today. Though the focus is, predictably, on NCT’s trinity — Taeyong, Mark, and Jaehyun — we were introduced to two new members, Lucas and Jungwoo. Win Win was also added and, like with 127, was ignored (though the boy served major looks!). “Boss” resembles NCT 127’s concepts more than “The 7th Sense,” being hard-hitting and relying heavily on hip-hop rather than being experimental. And while the song’s arrangement and line distribution were pretty predictable, the surprises came mainly in the form of a rapper other than Mark and Taeyong (this time Lucas) having a verse all to himself (and murdering it, mind you) and Jungwoo’s vocals blending perfectly with Doyoung. “Boss” is yet another gem in NCT’s growing discography and, like with every release, further proved that there’s nothing they can’t tackle and completely own.

—Alexis


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“Sober” by Suzy (Released Feb. 14)

With the recent release of a music video for “Sober,” Suzy’s self-composed ode to blurting out your true feelings while drunk just about qualifies for this week’s playlist. Suzy’s solo career has been somewhat smaller than you’d expect from a star as big as her but it has luckily been extremely composed. She’s one of very idols who can walk around a stage and completely captivate with a mere glance. On the b-side to her second single “Holiday,” Suzy effortlessly whispers her way through a minimal track of precise sounds and movements. Produced by EJAE, Aaron Kim, Isaac Han, and Andrew Choi, “Sober’s” instrumental is mostly percussion and handclaps, with the odd bubble popping to highlight certain elements. It’s a song of pure confidence and comfort. Singing her own words Suzy knows her limits and beautifully blends with the music to create that easy feeling. It’s believable that a performer like Suzy could be this comfortable while drunk but it turns out she was tricking us this whole time. Her confidence is very real and not clouded by alcohol as she reveals in the last line, “Baby, let me be honest with you, don’t be surprised, I’m not drunk at all, I’m sober.”

—Joe

Let us know your favorite song of the week in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

K-Pop & the Collective Body Part 2: Seventeen, Cosmic Girls, & NCT

Seventeen-CosmicGirls-NCT
Last year, I wrote about how K-pop groups use their bodies as a whole to convey meanings within their songs and overall careers. It focused on groups like EXO and Nine Muses and how that affected them following lineup changes. I also took SHINee as the ideal of what a group can do as a collective whole. Unity was the idea that stood out, focusing on how larger groups tend to suffer thanks to more inconsistency while smaller groups keep themselves tight on and off stage.

A year is a long time in K-pop though and groups have since surfaced that are challenging what choreography can do for their respective groups. Seventeen and their plucky performance team are showing how a group can best express themselves when given a chance to be a part in all aspects of creative production. Cosmic Girls are performing other worldly feats to corral 13 members on one stage. And, finally, SM Entertainment’s limitless boyband NCT’s need to use their dances as a way of communicating with all the world, considering they plan to take it over someday. These groups are putting many of their peers and predecessors to shame with the amount of precision and invention that goes into their movements on stage.

I already wrote a bit about Seventeen’s choreography but they have progressed even further since (and what I wrote was not up to my usual standards if I do say so myself, although definitely a good starting place to read what I think about their dancing). Seventeen place a large emphasis on their members’ role in creating their music. While that is in vogue with most new groups, few can claim to have choreographers in their team. Seventeen’s Hoshi does exactly this with the help of the rest of the performance team (Dino, Jun, and The8) and choreographer Choi Youngjun (who previously worked with the longest lasting K-pop idol group, Shinhwa). I’m generally sceptical when it comes these kinds of idols it’s hard to deny Hoshi’s work given Seventeen’s style.


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Seventeen’s choreography plays up their youthfulness. Every one of their performances incorporates masses of group expressions the likes of which we rarely get to see on stage. The members shine as individuals thanks to the moments in between big moves. There’s always more than one thing to enjoy when watching Seventeen dance. With their latest singles “Pretty U” and “아주 Very Nice,” Seventeen have added to their already strong repertoire.

Like most, my first listen of “Pretty U” was underwhelming.There’s something very safe and simple about the song that doesn’t catch your attention straight away. Add in the performance and it becomes something else entirely. The use of the couch isn’t just gloriously fun but apt given the song. It’s a relaxing piece of furniture for a relaxing piece of music. Best of all though, it gives Seventeen many new opportunities to show their character. Members pop up out of nowhere, jump on top of it, lie on it, and much more. All with effortless transitions too. For instance, when some of them stand in front of the couch for the chorus those behind them can re-position easily without distracting the viewer’s eye. This is also used to signify actual changes in the song as well, with nearly every musical transition moving the choreography from the couch to the stage and vice versa. This is usually achieved by the member currently singing getting up and walking towards the crowd serving as not just a seamless switch but also adding dynamic forward movement.

In essence, it’s a routine you might see in a High School Musical film and that’s why it suits “Pretty U” so well. The primary objective here is fun and both Seventeen and Hoshi know how to deliver that without going overboard. It even makes sense when the couch is taken away as the song goes into total climax with its increasingly strong vocals.

To balance out the cheesy fun of “Pretty U” Seventeen went for power with “Very Nice.” There’s a lot to love about “Very Nice” but the thing that struck me the most is how Seventeen obviously knows how hot they are when performing this. There’s a power and precision that isn’t present in any of their other dances. It certainly looks like their most difficult routine. It may also, surprisingly, be their simplest. The focus is on big formations with all the members rather than moving them around the stage. Their flourishes are not gone however, as they make some of the best parts such as in the second chorus when they all shout simultaneously. For all the skill involved “Very Nice” is still clearly a Seventeen dance. It’s a niche they can truly call their own when so many other boy groups focus solely on strong hip-hop routines. Constant innovation in choreography is what led to Seventeen’s success. Without dance crazes happening in Korea as much as they once did (“Gee,” “Tell Me,” “Sorry Sorry” etc.) that is hard to quantify but I find it hard to believe Seventeen would have stood out if they had regular routines.

Cosmic Girls face the same numbers problem as Seventeen. They have the same amount of members but don’t seem to have the same level of skill as Seventeen. To best use up space on stage they are adopting a system of groups of threes. Used ineffectively in their debut songs “Catch Me” and “Momomo,” Cosmic Girls perfected it with latest single “Secret.” In those debut tracks they sometimes set up the three teams on stage and had each group sing a line in a verse while the others stood there waiting for them. That means if the camera isn’t doing it for us, our eyes have to locate who is singing. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but here it leads us to look at members who are not doing anything.

“Secret” situates the three groups in the same way, one on the left, one on the right, and one in the centre. The numbers in each group constantly changes but a symmetry is contained at all times with the left and right sides nearly always having equal amounts. What “Secret” does differently is that the centre group always has the singing member. This means that even when someone is singing not in the exact centre of the stage she is framed on both sides (horizontally or vertically) by other members. These frames draw our eyesight, making it easy to follow the performance. There’s nothing too complex about the dance overall as the individual moves are nothing new but the formations are all precise. It’s something that works well with their cosmic nature too, the symmetry mirroring a destiny that lies in the balance (which is something that rookie groups Lovelyz and Oh My Girl have done well at).

Cosmic Girls, like Seventeen, can be split up into groups by their very nature, their alternate title WSJN is an acronym of their sub-units (Wonder, Sweet, Joy, and Nature). So mixing them up betrays none of their original ideas or unity. Today’s K-pop groups are a malleable bunch. Their collective bodies can express a number of different ideas in many ways. Where last time we saw groups losing members as a consistent hindrance to their dancing, it is built into groups today.

None more so than NCT, SM’s latest experiment of creating groups with detachable parts. With groups like these, who plan to debut all around the world, choreography will clearly be an important part of how they communicate. It also means that the idea of a single unbroken body as an expression of the group’s ideas does not exist for them. NCT can have any number of members in any number of variations of groups.


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So far NCT have not had consistently similar choreography. They have, however, been consistently pushing onwards to outdo themselves (and everyone else) with every turn. I already doubt we’ll see better choreography than NCT U’s “The 7th Sense” this year. It’s almost more an interpretive performance piece than a piece of pop choreography. The mix of martial arts-inspired moves and hip-hop is as abstract as it is flawlessly performed. When they first announced NCT it seemed SM was ready to create yet another group of flawless robots designed to look good and sell records. A debut like “The 7th Sense” questions this though by being too fluid to be considered robotic but too well executed to be believably human.

NCT 127’s “Fire Truck” also pushed boundaries. It is more standard K-pop fare than “The 7th Sense,” although the majority of moves fit into the song are extremely difficult. It is notable for the heroic extremes it goes to with each chorus move by Chinese member Winwin. His influence is notable throughout the entirety of the choreography in fact. His background in traditional Chinese dance is seen with his front cartwheel, his twisting move that makes all the other members spin, and more. His technical expertise isn’t quite a surprise, considering he might have influenced “The 7th Sense” or been influenced by it given that his teaser has the same name.

The latest NCT single, NCT Dream’s cutesy “Chewing Gum” was probably not expected to be as experimental with their choreography. For the most part that is correct. and it might have seemed simple although still intense if there weren’t hoverboards. Yes, hoverboards. (You know, the ones illegal in New York City) The actual dancing with the hoverboards is still pretty straightforward but considering the skill necessary to stay on top of one of them while singing and moving in formation, the dance of “Chewing Gum” becomes something else entirely. It’s a testament to the work ethic of SM’s trainees that they can pull this with such effortless glee, especially Mark who has taken part in every NCT promotion so far! #rookieoftheyear

It may take some time to find out what the collective body of NCT looks like, if we ever do see it ever as one single entity. It’s clear to see though that they are not going to be easy to pin down as an act, especially when it comes to choreography.

Between them these three young groups are carving out a new path as to what K-pop choreography can be. For Seventeen it can be the perfect expression of your personalities. Cosmic Girls show a dedication to symmetry and perfection, something every group strives for but it takes someone special to pull it off. For NCT the path is full of unknown possibilities and we hope they will continue to push boundaries. For all of them there is an understanding that the single group is not the only way of expressing unity. K-pop performance has become something new where SHINee were once seen as the pinnacle now groups are taking a different route to beauty. They are prepared for change, their individual bodies only small parts of a whole coming together to excite us in ways we never could have imagined. If one of their members leave it won’t be easy for them to rearrange but there is a feeling that they are prepared no matter what.

What do you think of these groups’ choreography? Are there any other groups standing out for you? Share your thoughts and quiz results in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andTumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

NCT 127 ‘Fire Truck’ & ‘Once Again’ Song Review

NCT 127
SM Entertainment’s most confusing group to date has come back to shed a little more light on what they do. NCT’s latest incarnation,NCT 127, consists of all the members from NCT U minus Ten (so that’s Mark, Doyoung, Taeyong, Taeil, and Jaehyun), plus new members Yuta, Winwin, and Haechan. I think it’s best to not even try keep up with the boys in this group. Their lineups are likely never going to be the same twice. It’s the perfect representation of a capitalist pop group, a name brand that attracts with interchangeable parts. Whoever is in the group doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re pretty and can dance (a good voice is optional).

NCT 127 do show somewhat of a different side to the NCT amalgam though. The brooding “7th Sense” and dull “Without You” gave us two sides without any real connection. With two new releases “Fire Truck” and “Once Again,” NCT 127 go closer to what we expect from rookie groups. A child-like sense of fun can be heard in both and works to save what could have been a bad release.

“Fire Truck”

 

“Fire Truck” is sort of like if “7th Sense” was produced by a child on a sugar rush. It was in fact produced by a bunch of SM regulars: LDN Noise, Tay Japser, and Ylva Dimberg. This time, they went for a much heavier hip-hop, EDM based track. “Fire Truck” bumps and crashes with bassy synths and trap beats. Sonically, it’s little more than generic though, despite the business of it all. At times it’s even grating to the ear, as it progresses with little intricacy or interest in transitions that are not breakdowns.

It has two saving graces, however, the first being that youthful mania. All of the vocals have a demented strain to them. The raps are delivered with a punch as if their lives depended on getting these words out. The “hey yay yay” build part is probably the most annoying of the whole song, yet works like a chant from a bunch of kids. The autotuned whining that follows is also probably very irritating for a lot of listeners, but I love the brazen attempt to make it as silly as possible. These guys are kids, so it makes sense for them to perform a song like this.


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It makes just as much sense that they’re using a fire truck as a metaphor for burning love. “Where are you looking at, Mr. fireman on the floor, Let’s make a fire, I’ll cool down this heat” Taeyong raps at the opening, making very little actual sense. It’s playful and stupid and almost makes me like this song. If Red Velvet are that kid you see running around screaming and feel jealous that they can be that free, NCT 127 are the kid sitting near on an airplane that cries, then sleeps, then cries again, then laughs, and finally sleeps again.

The second saving grace is the choreography. After re-watching a “7th Sense” live show, the thing that really stood out for me was the choreography. These are some talented kids who obviously spend a lot of time with choreographers figuring out the most inventive ways of performing a song. This might be a reason that “Fire Truck” turned out to their lead single. It is a weak track but is very danceable, and did they dance to it or what? It mirrors the crazed silliness of the song by having an inordinate amount of moves within small amounts of time. Taeyong, for example, has so much to do just in his own rap (so he can be forgiven for not rapping live).

What I like most is the SM signature of group interaction. This style is becoming more prevalent with groups like VIXX and Seventeen using it for all of their songs, but its roots lie in SM groups like EXO and particularly SHINee. Thematically, it works for NCT as highlighting the group rather than individuals. There’s a kinetic energy between them that seems like second nature to them. It also gives them big moments for their choruses, including cartwheels, a flying person, and a sort of puppet-like move which looks eerily natural. Best of all, they don’t wallow in these moves but immediately after continue with just as difficult synchronized dances.


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“Once Again”

 

NCT 127 take a different route with “Once Again,” the song they are promoting alongside lead “Fire Truck.” Produced by SM Swede regulars Andreas Oberg and Chris Wahle, “Once Again” is an R&B tinged bubblegum pop track that harkens back to other SM classics;it reminds us of Super Junior and SHINee’s more low-key moments. It’s expertly produced horns and funky guitars are so refreshing beside “Fire Truck.” The vocals as well are far superior and all so smooth and clean. The layered vocals in the chorus especially delight; these vocals are something SM are particularly good at and it’s great to see it hasn’t stopped.

It bustles with a wonderful summertime energy, which the lyrics are also about: young summer love. It’s the perfect fit for these young boys. Between this and “Fire Truck,” two young identities are shown. NCT go someway to representing the many contradictions of what it means to be young. Musically compared to “Fire Truck,” “Once Again” can seem a little flat or crystal clear in execution. I guess it depends on your current outlook on what it is to be young. Right now, the laidback freedom of “Once Again” appeals to me. Although I can see myself getting tired of it and looking more toward the twisted state of “Fire Truck.”

What do you think of “Fire Truck” and “Once Again”?  Also what are your impressions of NCT as a whole? Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us onFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

NCT U’s ‘The 7th Sense’ & ‘Without You’ Music Video & Song Review

NCT-U

SM Entertainment have long had an image of a more sweet and safe counterpart to YG Entertainment’s edgy western influenced looks and sounds. SM, however, have built their foundation on truly innovative concepts all based in more palatable (for a Korean audience) pop music. Songs like TVXQ’s “Rising Sun” and Girls’ Generation’s “I Got A Boy” are unprecedented in their experimentation with the pop form. f(x) as a group were conceived as a way of bringing art pop into K-pop. For all their weirdness though, all of those groups and more always had quality songs to back it up which allowed the innovation to be accepted.

Lee Soo Man moves onto his next big project with NCT, short for Neo Cultural Technology. The plan for NCT is to be a fluid group consisting of an unknown amount members made up of SM rookies. Sub-units will be formed from them and release music in different parts around the world. Kind of like the original idea for EXO, who debuted as two subunits focusing on each the Korean and Chinese markets, but on a much larger scale. NCT U are the first unit to debut with “The 7th Sense” and “Without You”. NCT U are made up of South Koreans Doyoung, Taeyong, and Jaehyun, Canadian Mark, and Thai member Ten. I do want to discuss the overall concept, but first and most importantly is the music.

Jaehyun, Doyoung, Taeyong, Mark, and Ten: ”The 7th Sense”

“The 7th Sense” is a perfect start for a group like this. It’s a slow burn that manages to be unwieldy at the same time. Its sound is familiar to western audiences as a mix of R&B and trap that has become popular over the last five years or so. Along with the lyrics, NCT U bring a certain otherworldly nature to the song. There’s an uncertainty to everything about it. The lyrics are about these waking and sleeping dreams that haunt the members of their past and future, “Yesterday is today, Today is yesterday, I’m only filled with late self-guilt.” They want to take it slow, let the song itself open their eyes onto better futures.

“The clock laughs at me.” For better or worse, the song mirrors these ideas well structurally. The clock also laughs at the audience by not letting much happen between each part of the song. A rolling bass synth and trap beat are introduced early in the song and sustain it the entire time. Elements are only ever taken out and put back in, nothing is added to change it up. The music is a dream, it is sparse, but seemingly never ending, pulling the listener physically onto the level of the lyrics. The vocals instead are used to transition the song. As a showcase of a new group this is where “The 7th Sense” works best. Each of the raps are unique with Taeyong’s droll delivery being the highlight and the vocalists kill it with some EXO like harmonies. It also means that we only know the song has moved on after someone starts singing or rapping. Each change is considerably different though, so when it does happen, we immediately know. Just like a dream, we only realise the setting has changed long after we have been there.


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The video and choreography top off these ideas by playing up the dreamlike state. The music video is almost always lit unconventionally. It uses lots of reds, oranges, and pinks for the group dance sequences. The solo parts range from some of those colours to prominent blues. It makes a mostly generic SM video into something a little more interesting.

The dance is similar in that it mixes more conventional styles with odd movements. Much of it is pretty quick hip hop with more stress placed on hand movements around the head. Like the song though, it never strays too far from slowing down to an almost complete stop. Taking it slow is clearly important. Also present, especially at the end of the video, are long arching moves. They seem martial arts inspired, offering a grace to the dance as it comes to an end.

Doyoung, Jaehyun, and Taeil: “Without You”

“Without You” is a move towards more mainstream pop. This is something that could be a huge hit if it were a proper release (maybe it is, NCT’s concept doesn’t specify how singles will be released). It’s a pop/rock track in the tradition of most K-pop rock groups like CNBLUE, FT Island, and now Day6. It’s a much more complete song than “The 7th Sense,” but is not half as interesting.

Again, as a showcase, it works well for their vocals. Each member is strong and pulls off the right emotions. However, “The 7th Sense” already did that and more, so really “Without You” feels like a way of just showing off that NCT U can do more than one genre. For a group with as weird a concept as NCT, this is disappointingly generic. I may be almost always against ballads, but they could have tried a little harder with something like EXO’s “What is Love” or Red Velvets recent “One of These Nights”.


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The lyrics are again surprisingly depressing. For two debut singles, this is an odd way to go. It’s about being utterly lonely without the one you love. It articulates it in interesting ways by referencing connections and living. In the context of NCT as a group, it speaks to the idea of their infinite members, connecting even if it is across the world is important. It’s a justification of the group itself.

In the music video I like the colours on display. SM have really taken to the washed out pastel trend ever since last year and it works here again. It seems that different colours are used to show different time period in the story of the video. They are contrasted well with the stark shadows of the wonderful opening images.

Overall Thoughts

One thing you obviously would have noticed is that different members performed both of the songs. The fluidity of NCT is strongly apparent with even their first unit being split up into smaller parts. This is something that interests me about this group. Collaborations have become a big trend in K-pop and this allows NCT to have an almost infinite number of different collaborations all without leaving the actual group for another partner. With large groups like this, they’re also prone to losing members, meaning that people can be swapped in and out with ease. Not only that, smaller sub units could be forgotten altogether as they may have served their purpose in the few weeks they promoted.

They are missing a trick however, by having only boys in the group. This could be expanded to include fluidity of gender, where a girl could swap in for a boy at times and vice versa. It could allow for more interesting takes on certain songs. I would also love to see some girls tackle material like “The 7th Sense,” which is so often deprived of them.

Musically, NCT at the moment have shown a variety of things that they could do. Both songs are marked by being little more than intros though. “The 7th Sense” is weird and interesting, but not quite there in terms of overall quality. It adds little to a fairly tired genre that could be invigorated by a young group like this. “Without You,” on the other hand, is even more generic. And yet, NCT don’t come close to being defined yet. Their very nature means there is so much more to come from performers all over the world. It’s an exciting prospect that brings the larger than life theatricality back to pop music K-pop adores. Watch the announcement video below to understand how Lee Soo Man sees NCT. They are kids from another planet here to take over the world, again like EXO on a bigger scale.

What do you think of “The 7th Sense” and “Without You”?  Also what are your impressions of NCT as a whole? Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.