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Amber Liu’s ‘Rogue Rouge’ album review

Resultado de imagem para amber liu rogue rouge

F(x) has always been one of the most distinctive groups in K-pop, experimenting with sounds and elements not often seen until their debut, in 2009. Taiwanese-american artist Amber Liu seemed a good fit for this group that was born to be different – from haircut to clothes, the group’s rapper had her own cool style that differed from what female idols used to look like, and apparently SM Entertainment, the group’s agency, respected that.

But was it enough? Was Amber happy? How would Amber sound if she could make art in her own terms? With the release of Rogue Rouge on April 15, we have some answers.

This sixtrack mixtape was not the first time fans could see a different side of Amber, though. While in f(x) she had the position of main rapper, a role she also played in her bright/energetic solo release “Shake That Brass,” Amber has released several singles showcasing her singing voice: “Beautiful,” “On My Own,” “Borders,” and “Need to Feel Needed.” Amber also directed the Music Video for f(x)’s “All Mine,” and released a duo with f(x)’s colleague Luna, “Lower.”

One could say Amber has had multiple opportunities to do something different than what she does in f(x), and that’s true. But one can also say that, as an artist, she still has more to show and has the right to seek for creative freedom, and that’s true too.  

That being said, Rogue Rouge may not have come as a total surprise for those who paid attention to Amber out of f(x); however, the mixtape can still shine new lights on what we know about her life and career.


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Format

Releasing a mixtape nowadays might have some sort of a charm, like a countercultural alternative to the polished and well planned release of albums and EPs. It’s also a popular way for a group’s member to show their individual colours, like what happened with the solo mixtapes released by BTS members Rap Monster, Suga, and more recently, J-Hope.

In Amber’s case, though, a mixtape released on a democratic platform like Soundcloud says a little more. Rogue Rouge is an independent work, made without any connection or money from SM Entertainment. Everything about Rogue Rouge was 100% the result of Amber’s personal efforts and collaborations with friends, such as Singaporean artist Gen Neo, who co-wrote “Closed Doors” and “Right Now,” who also provided vocals for this last one; and model and photographer Stefanie Michova, who directed the music video for “Closed Doors.”

There is no confirmation that Amber is still under SM Entertainment. Therefore, the very fact that Amber is able to do this mixtape suggests that her contract with them allows the space for a bit of artistic freedom. But, if the mixtape is available for free download, it could also mean that Amber isn’t allowed to make money out of her agency.


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Music

If you’re waiting to hear anything near K-pop or f(x)’s past music on the mixtape, just know that you won’t find it here. Sonically speaking, Rogue Rouge is quite an homogeneous piece of work, sticking to R&B tunes (“Get Over It,” “Closed Doors,” “Right Now”) and pop (“Three Million Years”), with little presence of EDM elements (“High Hopes,” “Lifeline”).

The production is far from the grandiose that K-pop instrumentals sound like.ut whether it’s due to being independent work or just Amber’s personal choice, it doesn’t really matter. The simplicity works perfectly fine here. Amber’s beautiful voice and interpretation are the big stars of every single track. Even the simpler songs sound so meaningful because it’s obvious that she’s putting a lot of love into them. It is possible that her choice to go for smoother jams could be saying something about how she feels towards the effusive, loud music she has been doing as an idol. But, just like any artist who has to deal with limited creative freedom (or no freedom at all) when they’re under a group, maybe she just wanted to do something for herself.  

Lyrics

Amber wrote all the 6 tracks, with the help from Gen Neo in two of them.

They’re all in English, her native language, and most of them about heartbreak. Yes, it seems like someone broke Amber’s heart – and while such person deserves to be punched (!), seeing such a stripped and honest side of Amber’s lyricism is a delight.

amber kcon 2016 los angeles red carpet

by Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum

It’s a not a side often seen from K-pop idols: they have to act, speak, sing in a certain way. No matter how bold is the concept, they can only go so far – and even if it’s very far, it’s only to cause an impression.

But in Rogue Rouge there’s just an adult woman being an adult woman, and it includes occasional cursing, heartbreaks, desire, the dilemmas of public versus private life etc.

Overall Feeling

From the emblematic instance when Amber spoke on social media about being neglected as an artist to how independently Rogue Rouge was done, it seems that Amber’s main wish is to just sing a story that’s all hers, rather than to prove anything to anyone.  

Rogue Rouge has no climax or wow moments. It sounds genuine, though. The lyrics for “Closed Doors,” the best track, sums up the whole purpose of Amber with this mixtape: no overthinking or reinventing the wheel; no need to run, hide or “keep on choosing sides.” This is just Amber being Amber and doing what she feels like doing. If that really is her purpose, then, indeed, she wouldn’t need sumptuous instrumentals and complex songs to do that.

In Brazil, we have a saying for when we’re gifting someone we care about yet we can’t afford something expensive: “It’s simple, but it’s from the heart.” That seems to be the case here: simple (compared to K-pop) but meaningful music. Again, I don’t know if money has anything to do with the crude sonority of Rogue Rouge, but I don’t even care, and it seems like Amber doesn’t care either. She’s pouring her heart out, and for a project that aims for expressing individuality rather than charting, that’s more than enough.

Let us know what you think of Amber Liu’s “Rogue Rouge” 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.

Red Velvet’s “Rookie” Music Video & Song Review


Who better to kickstart a relatively slow year opening than SM Entertainment’s’s resident pocket rockets Red Velvet? Most expected that they’d come back with one of their velvet concept tracks but new single “Rookie” is red through and through. A velvet track would have been comforting and suited the cold months but “Rookie” goes past that to be an infectious energy boost to anyway who come in its way. Red Velvet are well past rookies now, and their edge is proving to be the most distinctive of all the newer girl groups.

Song

That being said though “Rookie” is not an easy song to get into. Looking at the laundry list of producer’s names we can see a probable reason for this. The song introduces itself as being by The Colleagues, who are an American production team more used to hip hop and R&B than bubblegum pop. They’ve worked with artists like Lil’ Wayne and Gucci Mane, people who don’t shout Red Velvet. SM regulars Tay Jasper, Sara Forsberg, and more were on head to presumable help the transition though. So many different hands were on this song and I think it is thanks to this not despite it that “Rookie” could come through as a quality track.

The Colleagues’ hip hop has been filtered out in favour of funk to counter the chaos of a Red Velvet song. The drum beat is introduced as the driving force. It perfectly combines both worlds into something clear but potentially erratic. A rolling bassline comes in behind along with horns and guitars eventually which add the more grounding elements. We’re used to synth heavy tracks from Red Velvet so it’s great to hear something with the same energy but not synthetic. The horns especially create this unique vibe thanks to being so fun and spontaneous.


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The large number of producers may help cultivate the turbulent sound of Red Velvet, it would be nothing without their delivery. “Rookie” is their clear vocal highlight. It challenges the girls to swing wildly between their patented talk-singing and regular singing. The song’s structure is built around it. The verses are split into two distinct parts: Irene and Joy open up with cheeky introductions, getting us ready for the onslaught of ‘lookie lookies.’ Irene, Joy, and Yeri were made for this type of vocal play and “Rookie” really lets them shine. In the second part, Seulgi and Wendy start the actual singing and bring the details. They describe the rookie boy they are after and the effect he has on them. In a sense the almost nonsensical chorus is that effect in action. The childish repetition illustrates as Wendy sings “…Even the way I talk turns into ice when I’m front of you.”

The rapid transitions between vocals take less of a potential toll thanks to the song itself taking its time. It takes about a minute to reach the chorus from the beginning of the song. Usually this would be quite long but here it feels organic. Each new part is so filled with imaginative sounds so it never feels like you’re waiting for the chorus.

Music Video

As we’ve come to be accustomed to, with each new Red Velvet release the music video is decidedly psychedelic. “Rookie” expels the tighter, plot-like focus of “Russian Roulette” for something a bit more messy but just as weird. It takes aesthetic cues from Alice in Wonderland uses wardrobes and doors from The Lion, The Witch, The Wardrobe to transition between different sets. Like the song the girls can go through any door at any time, into a new exciting world. There’s a strange man made of flowers, Joy as a drug dealer, and a pull back to reveal the meta ending. Best of all is the long shot of Seulgi coming through the first door with a confused look, only to immediately find herself back in formation dancing to the chorus.


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Overall Thoughts

The best thing about Red Velvet is the commitment to their concepts since debut without becoming stale. They have continually produced magnificent tracks with youthful vigour. “Rookie” especially, finds something exciting. It’s many parts are equally diverse and wonderful. To the fans who think it’s too childish, do you even know Red Velvet? This is Red Velvet at their most fervent red. It’s supposed to be wacky and hard to grasp. That’s why we love them.

What do you think of “Rookie”? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site. Follow us on Facebook, 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.

Playlist Sunday: K-Pop Feuds

Playlist Sunday: Favorite February Releases

K-pop is a cutthroat battlefield in many ways, but the public feuds are few and far in between. This week’s Playlist Sunday focuses on some of the most sensational K-pop Feuds over the past few years, either between agencies and idols, or singer against singer.

While some K-pop feuds are between two people, the ongoing dispute between JYJ and SM Entertainment is something that has been going on so long that it has even led to action from Korean politicians. JYJ (Junsu, Yoochun, and Jaejoong) is made up of three former TVXQ members who left the group in 2009. Seven years later, the trio still finds their activities blocked bythe influence of their former agency. But in the “Untitled Song, Part 1” (Or “The Nameless Song, Part 1”), which was released as part of JYJ’s 2011 self-composed music essay, the three went out and attacked their former agency, addressing in song what had led to the trio splitting from the other two members of TVXQ. The song, written and composed entirely by Yoochun, details their time at SM Entertainment from 2003 in an earnest way that is lacking from many K-pop songs. The trio sings and raps about their hardships, their journey to the top in Korea and Japan, and the pivotal moment when they reached out to SM Entertainment’s CEO and were disappointed. “When he needed us, we were family to him,” sings JYJ. “When we needed him, we were strangers to him.” The song continues on to express that JYJ’s members realized they weren’t getting paid enough and other hardships and is a frank depiction, and explanation, of the turmoil that led JYJ to leave from TVXQ at the pique of the group’s height. The song ends with JYJ thanking fans for their support. Musically, the song is simple, but the lyrical storytelling is heartbreaking and shows JYJ’s side of a story.

— Tamar


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Hot off the back of his win on “Show Me The Money,” iKon rapper Bobby released a diss track calling out all idol rappers. He said that they have smeared the name of idol and rapper but took the time to exclude WINNER’s Mino and Block B rappers Zico and P.O. While making some good points about the overall state of rapping idols, coming for the most of them meant he insulted a lot of people who probably don’t take rapping that seriously. You might say that maybe they should, but in the context of being an idol it makes up only one part of what is expected of them. Generally he came off as arrogant and whiny just to drum up some extra attention. I don’t think that VIXX’s Ravi’s response to him is in any way a better rap, but I do agree with the sentiments. His corny track “Diss Hater”
was about how he thinks all idol rappers are just that and it makes no difference how good you are. Listen to Ravi everyone, we’re all the same really so relax.

— Joe


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What do you do, as a big shot entertainment company, after you’ve “let” an artist go because of “misinterpretations” to then seeing them trying to make a comeback in the industry that you wanted to potentially claim yours? Due to some severely “mistranslated” and overlooked comments that ex-2PM member Jay Park made while still a trainee about the unfavorable aspects of Korea, he was then practically shunned from the industry and country. Although by the time Jay was ready to make his comeback in Korea in 2010, while everyone else was ready to welcome him back with open arms, JYP Entertainment wasn’t having any of that. The company made it so that Jay was blocked and blacklisted from making any possible televised appearance. Jay would be scheduled for certain tv shows, appear on set and then be told to leave and/or get calls the morning of and be told that for whatever unforeseeably reason, his appearance had been cancelled due to “pressure” from the “higher-ups.”

After an almost five year hiatus back in the United States, you can imagine that Jay’s comeback was anything but smooth. Things eventually got better; producers from certain broadcasting stations eventually realized that Jay would be able to grant them better viewership. Certain shows like “Immortal Song 2” and “Dream Team” brought him on knowing that aside from the past drama stemming between JYPE and Jay, that Jay himself would be good for their business. For the sake of their company and pressure from the industry, I get why the company sent Jay off like that, but they shouldn’t have gone about it the way that they did and even afterwards when things were long done between the two parties. Although it seems like the two have moved on from the past, JYP seems to still be holding on to some angst, considering how Jay can’t appear on “Running Man” due to the producers familial relationship with Park Jin Young himself.

— Tam

Who’s side are you on? Share your 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.

The Curious Case Of Super Junior’s Kim Kibum’s Quiet Departure From SM Entertainment

"Sorry Sorry" Kim KibumOn August 18, a member left one of SM Entertainment‘s most popular groups and the K-pop world hardly stopped to consider the usual questions. There was no “why?” or “what now?” as there had been following departures from EXO, Girls’ Generation, and f(x) over the past two years.

Instead, Kim Kibum’s departure from SM Entertainment led, yes, to sadness from many Super Junior fans, but also to an almost overwhelming sigh of “it’s about time” from the larger K-pop community.

For a fandom that has seen a lot of dramatic exits, Kim leaving SM Entertainment was one of the quietest major events to happen to one of K-pop’s top acts. Which leads to the question of why the calm? Why didn’t K-pop fans freak out about a departure from Super Junior?

Probably because Kim Kibum in actuality left being an active Super Junior member long ago, and the official statement that was shared by Kim on Instagram is just the final nail in a coffin that was already buried years ago.

[Just a note, several Super Junior members posted support for Kim’s departure from SM, showing that there were no hard feelings, and fans were quick to notice that that Kim’s official Instagram post said that he was leaving SM Entertainment but not Super Junior.]

 

2015 august 18th. Finished with S.M. ent. Lets begin my new life…!! 그동안 함께했던 SM 감사합니다.

A photo posted by 김기범 (@mub_ik_mik) on

 


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Since debuting in 2005, Super Junior has seen a lot of scandals and drama amidst personal loss, accidents, fights, lawsuits, line-up changes, enlistments, and much more. But Kim’s departure was something that had been expected, and accepted, almost since 2009 when he first went missing from the group amidst “Sorry, Sorry” promotions.

After he was absent from the follow up track to “Sorry, Sorry,” “It’s You,” SM Entertainment announced that Kim would focus on his busy solo promotions. The group wasn’t suffering, and had just seen legendary success with “Sorry Sorry,” so the fact that Kim went MIA at this point in the group’s career sent a pretty clear signal that he was happy to do his own thing. And Super Junior and SM Entertainment were, from the outside point of view, fine with that (it is unclear what arrangement the company had with Kim regarding compensation and Super Junior’s career following his initial absence from the group.)

In essence, Kim Kibum left Super Junior unofficially in May 2010, when SM Entertainment confirmed that Kim would officially not partake in Super Junior activities for the time being. ELF, Super Junior’s Everlasting Friends, continued to support Kim’s solo career, and Super Junior even recently discussed welcoming Kim back if he were interested, but that ship had truly sailed long ago.

Why wasn’t this a big deal then, and why isn’t it now? In comparison to the departure of Hankyung (Han Geng) during the same period (2009-2010,) and the JYJ-TVXQ lawsuit (and the more recent Kris-Luhan-Jessica-Tao- Sulli exits), Kim’s departure was phrased as anything but. He’s been under the company until now, taking a few acting jobs now and then but essentially sitting as a lame duck. Why did SM Entertainment put up with it? That leads us to the fact that Super Junior probably should win the award for being the K-pop Group That Shouldn’t Exist.


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The fact that Super Junior began its tenth anniversary promotions this summer with the release of “Devil” is absolutely insane, to put it easily. Super Junior debuted as the project group Super Junior ‘05, with the intention of SM Entertainment rotating members in and out. The original line-up of twelve members was not supposed to stick. The addition of Kyuhyun and the removal of the year from Super Junior’s name was momentous not only for the group’s loyal fans because it meant that Super Junior was there to stay, but it also meant a change of path for the members.

Prior to debuting in Super Junior ‘05, Kibum was the most prominent member in Super Junior. As a model and actor, Kim was responsible for getting Super Junior’s name out there, and took the role as one of the group’s so-called visual members. And he got the job done, promoting as Super Junior’s Kim Kibum on television.

Following the initial success of the group and then the 2009 glory of “Sorry Sorry,” it was clear that Super Junior was going to stick around the K-pop world. So someone who had initially prepared to graduate from being a K-pop idol in a few years was forced to look at a possibly daunting career. As an ELF myself, I can admit that Kim Kibum’s raps were decent at best, while his heart was truly in acting and modeling. For whatever reason, SM Entertainment didn’t promote him well after he went on hiatus from the group, but Super Junior had gained exposure thanks to Kim’s presence on television, and then when he wanted to call it quits, it seems like SM let him go at a time when bad PR would tank the company’s stocks even more.

Kim Kibum was never integral to Super Junior, and Super Junior was never integral to Kim Kibum. So when he left initially, it was fine. And in 2015, when his contract expired, there was no drama. There was no lawsuits, or shocking interviews with the Korean press, or outrage from either side. There was civility, and an adult attitude towards the whole thing. Which is quite impressive for K-pop.

How do you feel about Kim Kibum’s exit from SM Entertainment? Share your 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.

SHINee, Wonder Girls & T-ara: Single Roundup Review

Wonder Girls
Sometimes I think I’m not harsh enough on K-pop releases. Nearly every one of my reviews has been overwhelmingly positive. Those were all genuinely great releases, though, and I don’t think any differently now. Maybe K-pop is not as perfect as I thought it was, and I was adjusting my opinions to fit that. Then this week happened. Three titans of K-pop SHINee, Wonder Girls, and T-ara released equally exceptional new songs. As the kids would say, what a time to be alive.

These vanguards of K-pop are also a good example of a few different sides of the genre. Wonder Girls and SHINee deliver perfect 80/70s throwbacks in different ways and T-ara pull off the best generic Brave Brothers track since AOA’s “Miniskirt”.

SHINee “Married to the Music”

SHINee already showed us that they had the 90s sound and look down to a tee, and this time they take on the music of the 70s. Michael Jackson’s style in particular can be heard, which isn’t a surprise given his clear influence on Taemin’s solo and SHINee’s concept in general.

The first thing you’ll notice about “Married to the Music” is how wacky and fun the video is. It takes most of its inspiration from the 1975 cult classic, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” It shows the boys from SHINee drinking some weird drinks that change their disposition (alcohol! gasp!) and having a wild time in a creepy house. Heads are chopped off, eyeballs popped out as events get stranger by the second. It is by far the most fun video of the year so far. It’s great to see SM actually trying with their videos as well. When they actually put effort in, and take SM artists outside of boxes, SM Entertainment makes the best video they have ever done.


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It’s disappointing then that the lyrics don’t match up with the video at all then. They’re pretty standard, about loving a girl. Even the music metaphor isn’t interesting as it’s always about the girl and not actual music, which could have been cool and unsurprising given SHINee’s seeming love of music, especially Jonghyun.

This disappointment doesn’t last long though as the song more than makes up for it. “Married to the Music” continues the retro theme with funky aplomb. The thing I really like about this song is the wide use of actual instruments over electronics. Apart from the drums it sounds like an actual band could have played this. The wandering bass that carries the song is particularly satisfying and reminiscent of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. The slick guitars provide the funk like no synths can. That’s not to say it’s devoid of electronics though, they are used sparingly to good effect at louder parts of the song like Minho’s rap. The song is a blast and has no trouble keeping up with the outrageous video.

Wonder Girls “I Feel You”

The throwbacks continue with the return of the legendary Wonder Girls. I got into K-pop in late 2011 so missed most of the Wonder Girls mania. So, they never really meant a lot to me apart from having some good songs. However, when the teaser came out for “I Feel You”, the single for their new rebooted band lineup, I fell in love. The MTV inspired video and 80s synth-pop sound appeared so perfectly realised. With the release of the video, this love turned out to be complete.

Like SHINee, it’s the dedication to being retro that really sets Wonder Girls apart. So often recently we have seen groups tack on the most obvious elements of 80s or 90s pop to make their song a retro throwback. The general sound and look of these songs are usually still quite modern, though, so it tends not to work. What Wonder Girls have done is transport the 80s to today and given it modern production values and edgy sexiness. Even with that, “I Feel You,” still sounds like it could have been from the actual 80s.

This is clearly evident in the synth hook that introduces the song. It’s an intoxicating riff that doesn’t outstay its welcome and eventually becomes the hook of the song. This is why the actual chorus comes across as quite flat at first. Sunmi’s softer, kind of talk singing over the chorus doesn’t inspire you to sing along but allows the synth riff to shine once she’s finished. It also works to carry over the sensual feeling of the verse which features similar sexy, whispered vocals. The addition of rapping that can sometimes make a retro K-pop track quite jarring doesn’t even stop “I Feel You” for a moment. Yubin’s deep, sensual voice fits perfectly with the rest of the vocals making her rap more a slightly faster verse than a whole new part.


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The music video also completely nails the 80s retro feel. The attention to detail in some of the images is brilliant and quite funny at times. If you ever thought the video was kind of cheesy at times, don’t worry: That’s the point. The opening is probably my favourite where Sunmi turns to the camera, smiles then zips down her shorts to reveal the group on stage. For whatever reason the turn before she smiles makes it for me; it seems unnecessary but works so well. I also love the shots of the girls as they rap the post-chorus part. They have two of the girls in each shot and pull focus as they rap. It’s the type of shot that would never be seen today and is the kind of detail that makes this song and video one of the best of the year so far.

T-ara “So Crazy”

For better or worse, Brave Brothers has become a mainstay of the K-pop environment. His safe but effective music has been increasingly popular in the last few years making him the go to guy for a hit. So his pairing with the once loved T-ara is an appropriate one. Ever since their scandal in 2012, T-ara have had a hard time regaining their popularity in Korea. Instead they have mainly focused on promoting in China where they have had unprecedented success. They, of course, have not given up on their home country though and are teaming up with Brave Brothers for “So Crazy” their new single.

While “So Crazy” stays true to the Brave Brothers form in structure and use of sounds, it is still an incredibly exciting track. It moves at intense speeds. The song doesn’t quite explode until the first chorus but the opening verse is deceptively quick and full to the brim with different sounds. Bouncing horns and layered vocals build anticipation before the song takes off. Its a sound that fits T-ara like few other groups. Their vocals lend to the high-pitched layers especially using the slightly weaker Jiyeon with a stronger vocal like Hyomin’s or Soyeon’s.

“So Crazy” is Brave Brothers at his absolute best. Of the three songs I’ve talked about so far, it is probably the least interesting and yet it remains the most exciting and listenable. His ‘oh oh oh’ hook once again works its magic. The song has an unhinged quality that is usually absent in Brave Brothers songs. It hits all the same beats as any recent AOA song yet there is always so much going that it never bores and feels like it could lift off into the stratosphere at any time.

What do you think of these three songs and of the current state of K-pop? Share your 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.

K-Pop Sound, American Style: Marcan Entertainment Is The K-Pop Production K-Pop Agencies Turn To [INTERVIEW]

Marcan Ent

They may not know it, but most K-pop fans owe their soul to Marcan Entertainment.

If you’ve ever heard SHINee’s “Lucifer,” U-KISS’s “Neverland,” or EXO’s “Love Me Right,” then you’ve heard a song that Marcan Entertainment had its hands behind. As a music production company that brings foreign producers and music writers together with South Korean musicians, Marcan Entertainment works closely with many Korean entertainment agencies. In particular, the company has a long-lasting relationship with SM Entertainment, and many of K-pop’s most popular groups have sung songs put together by Marcan Entertainment.

Marcan’s managing director Mark Yom spoke with me to discuss what the company is doing within the K-pop world.

So what is it that Marcan Entertainment does exactly?

“We facilitate music,” Yom said, as we sat in a cafe in the heart of Seoul, less than 100 feet from K-pop powerhouses SM Entertainment and FNC Entertainment.

“We have tons of writers and producers consistently sending us music, and we filter them and we see what will be good for SM or any other label,” he explained, describing the first way that Marcan Entertainment connects K-pop with songwriters. Marcan also works with Warner Chapell, which helps the company access thousands of musicians.

Foreign producers send their demos to Marcan, and Marcan decides where to pitch it. “We pitch songs that they [the agencies] don’t even ask for,” said Yom. “They’re always looking for something that is different.”


Also on KultScene: Meet iDR, The Man Behind EXO’s “Love Me Right”

Marcan Entertainment began in 2009, with Ryan S. Jhun as the creative producer and Yom as the managing director. Almost before things were underway, Jhun had already closed a deal with SM Entertainment, and the two have honored their loyalty to the Korean agency ever since.

“A mutual friend happened to know one of the staff from SM, and that person introduced Ryan [Jhun] to the A&R team leader,” explained Yom. “Lucky for us, he was able to close a deal and when he came back to New York, that’s when he asked me to work together with him, to partner up and I said ‘sure, why not?’”

Since then, the “sure, why not?” attitude has gotten Yom and Jhun working with a variety of K-pop agencies. Marcan Entertainment has produced songs for JYP Entertainment (15&’s “Somebody”,) B2M Entertainment (SPICA,) NH Media (U-KISS,) and more. According to Yom, YG Entertainment and FNC Entertainment have their own sounds and in-house producer that Marcan Entertainment doesn’t usually tailor to.

Regardless of the other agencies, though, Marcan works closely with SM to the degree that they provide music writers for multiple songwriting camps run by SM each year, the second way that Marcan generates K-pop songs.

“Every month, songwriters from all over the world come to write songs for them. We do anywhere from three to five song camps with SM per year. So the last one we did was March. This one [in July] is not as big, but normally we have 20 different songwriters and producers from all over the world for anywhere from 2-3 weeks.”

Marcan chooses producers and songwriters that they think will be able to tailor songs to SM Entertainment’s tastes and invites them to Korea.

“At the beginning of writing camps, SM A&R’s gives them leads, gives them reference,” Yom told me. “’Hey, these are the kind of songs that we’re looking for at this moment. These are the artists that we’re aiming for.’”

Those songwriting camps have resulted in some of SM Entertainment’s latest hits, including SHINee’s most recent single “View,” and EXO’s “Love Me Right.”

According to Yom, the songwriting process can take anywhere from a few hours to two weeks, but forcing the producers and songwriters to produce hundreds of songs during the songwriting camp isn’t what Marcan is there to do. “It doesn’t make sense for us to make 10-15 songs a week if they’re all – excuse my language – shitty songs. If it’s shitty, it’s shitty. … Sometimes they [the songwriters] can work on one song the whole day or a few hours, or a few weeks, cause that’s how long it takes to make a song.”

So what happens exactly when an agency like SM Entertainment hears a song at the songwriting camp that fits their image? “Love Me Right” is a good example, even though it took a bit longer than usual to create.

“As soon as they heard the hookline ‘love me right uh huh’ while we were having this songwriting camp, they were like, ‘we want to use this as a single so can you build more upon it?’” Yom recounts SM Entertainment’s interest in the song. “So we had iDR [the producer] working on just that song for two weeks, we had him do nothing else. We had other writers working on other songs, like Adrian [Mckinnon, who wrote SHINee’s “View] and other guys working on stuff for SHINee, with a lot of other stuff going on at the same time.”

For his part, Mark Yom is mostly involved with the business and legal side of things, but his relationship with Jhun is like to two hands attached to one body. One hand is better at doing one thing, while the other is good at another, but they still have to know what the other is doing and where they are at all times.

”I’ve learned that just because I’m on the business side of things doesn’t mean that I have to close my ears and can ignore what’s going on. Even though I’m not part of songwriting or producing, I’m there just to give them [the creative side] support.”

Working so closely with SM Entertainment, Yom has a good idea of what the company is angling for, and highlighted SHINee’s latest album, “Odd,” as SM’s ideal sound for the foreseeable future.

“They don’t want too much going on from the production side. They want something light and minimal, but with very catchy hook lines and melodies…For the last two or three years, trap and EDM style music was in but now they’re trying to phase that out. The recent single that we had with SHINee, the song called “View,” it’s very light and a mix of dance, R&B, and pop sounds. We did their song “Lucifer” too, and that was very electronic, EDM heavy, but that was almost four years ago.”

The deep house song became a huge hit in South Korea. If there’s more where that came from planned for SHINee, every music fan in the world should be excited.

So what exactly happens to all of those songs that they create that don’t get accepted by SM Entertainment or wherever they think they should go? They sometimes go unproduced, but Marcan Entertainment will re-pitch. “Just because it [a song] was rejected doesn’t mean it’s bad quality, but it’s not what they’re looking for or not in their musical direction,” explained Yom. “There were songs that were supposed to come out with SM but didn’t. For example, U-KISS’s ‘Neverland,’ was pitched for Super Junior but for some reason it didn’t get cut on time, and went to U-KISS.”

Even though that didn’t work out, Marcan Entertainment has worked with Super Junior on other projects, such as their single “No Other.” Marcan has worked with just about every top SM Entertainment artist in the past six years. Marcan Entertainment’s latest song for SM Entertainment was “Champagne,” a solo track by TVXQ’s Yunho prior to his enlistment in the Korean military.

Next up from Marcan are two of the biggest K-pop comebacks of the year.


Also on KultScene: Which Korean Entertainment Company Is For You?

“We have Girls’ Generation’s [comeback]. One of the songs, “You Think,” was produced by us and the songwriter, SAARA. She’s a Finnish artist. We brought her over, she’s working with Marcan, and she wanted to meet Girls’ Generation so she met Tiffany yesterday.”

“You Think” is one of the two follow up tracks to the hit single “Party” that Girls’ Generation will release later this summer. SHINee’s repackage album is also expected to be released soon, with a few Marcan Entertainment songs.

Marcan Entertainment is one of the only companies doing what it’s doing, and hard work has truly paid off.

Six years ago, when Yom and Jhun began their work, Yom admits that it was a bit more difficult to convince producers and songwriters to get on board the K-pop train. That’s not the case now. “We don’t even have to convince songwriters or producers to work with us because they’ve already heard about the K-pop market so we don’t have to sell them as much as we used to, because they didn’t know about the market.”

While Marcan Entertainment is a relatively small agency, Yom and Jhun have big dreams, and have around 30 songwriters signed to their company. “There’s a lot of other areas that we’re interested in getting into, for example having our own artist someday, and we’re going to continue producing music for K-pop. Clearly, we’re open to working with US writers. That’s eventually what we want to do and we’ll keep on pushing to reach that level. We want to not only be K-pop music producing team or company but we want to be able to produce all sorts of music, for anyone.”

What do you think of Marcan Entertainment’s work in the K-pop industry? Share your 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.

Which Korean Entertainment Company Is For You? [Quiz]

FNC

When it comes to the Korean entertainment industry, most K-pop fans know about some of the top entertainment companies. SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment… The big three have their own unique styles, but so do many of the smaller agencies, like indie label Antenna Music or FNC Entertainment with its preference towards band concepts. And don’t forget about Starship Entertainment, Woollim Entertainment, Loen Tree, and all the rest of the agencies. With so many options, there’s a place for everyone!

If you’re a fan of K-pop, you’ve likely wondered which company you’d like to be signed with. Don’t know where you would belong? That’s where we come in. There is no sorting hat for Korean entertainment agencies (unless you count a competition show like Superstar K), but here’s our latest KultScene quiz for you to determine which Korean entertainment company is the best for you.


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What did you think of your result? Did you get into the Korean entertainment company that you thought you would? Let us know what other quizzes you’d like to see from KultScene! Share your 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.