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Big Bang Monster mv screencap

K-pop Round-up-Review: BIGBANG, Wonder Girls, Teen Top and She’z

I didn’t feel like reviewing these releases individually, so here’s the second edition of my K-pop Round-up-Reviews. First up, the return of BIGBANG.

BIGBANG – “Monster”
One of South Korea’s best groups makes a return with a re-package album titled ‘Still Alive,’ just three months after the fantastic ‘Alive‘. I’ll make a mention of the other three ‘new’ tracks later, but let’s first get to the lead single:

What can I say about G-Dragon that hasn’t already been said many times before by pretty much anyone who knows how talented this guy is. This song is awesome! Penned by G-Dragon and T.O.P, produced by G-Dragon and Choi Pil Kang, “Monster” is a great single and has already become one of my favourite BIGBANG tracks. I rank it higher than 2011’s “Tonight” and it’s only unfortunate the group aren’t going to be promoting it on the music shows.

Unlike “Blue” and “Bad Boy” which were a change of pace for the group, “Monster” is pure K-pop. Piano melodies, thumping beats and strong vocals by Taeyang and Daesung. It isn’t a song that you can label ‘quintessentially BIGBANG,’ because the song structure is something you hear from a dozen other idol group songs. As for the video, it sure looks expensive. Lot of action, special effects and outrageous Prodigy-inspired styling. As usual, I’m not going to comment on the fashion or choice of clothing because the quality of the music outweighs both. – 5 out of 5 (Excellent)

Big Bang Monster mv screencapAs for the other tracks on ‘Still Alive,’ the title track is a full version of the intro track found on ‘Alive’. “Feeling” and “Ego” are Korean versions of their previously released Japanese tracks. “Bingeul Bingeul” (not to be confused with U-Kiss’ track of the same name) is rock-infused and a pretty good album track. The rest of the track-list includes “Blue,” “Bad Boy,” “Fantastic Baby” and “Love Dust” – making this a great collection for people who were holding out from picking up ‘Alive’. I’ve got my copy on pre-order at YesAsia!

Wonder Girls – “Like This”

Another super group returns to the Korean music scene a few months after a stellar previous effort. As much as everyone is anticipating the American debut of the Wonder Girls, JYP has released the Girls’ second Mini Album ‘Wonder Party’ in Korea. Comprised of six tracks, the lead single is “Like This”:

I must say the song caught me by surprise. It’s a sound I never expected from the Wonder Girls. Very edgy, unique and more hip-hop than k-pop. It’s another track by their mentor J.Y. Park, but all that time spent in America seems to have influenced his musical style too. It took me a few listens to like the song but I think it works for the direction the girls are heading towards as they venture into the Western market.

If I heard the audio before watching the music video, I would have picturized it very differently. Quite ghetto in fact. It’s weird. The song doesn’t sound like a happy-go-lucky song you like to bop to, but the way the girls dance to the beat (and everybody else in the MV) – the video seems to convince you otherwise. For once you get an idol group video in an open environment and not confined to a set. So everything the Wonder Girls have done this time seems to be a welcome change. “Like This” may not be a favourite, but I won’t skip the channel if the music video ever came on. – 3 out of 5 (Excellent)

Wonder Girls party album cover members

As for the rest of the album, it didn’t really fit my fancy as much as ‘Wonder World’ did. I didn’t instantly fall in love with the other tracks like I did when I first ‘Wonder World’. It may take me a few listens, but just like “Like This” the rest of the album is altogether a sound you’re not used to hearing from Wonder Girls.

Teen Top – “To You”

This is the first time I’m writing about Teen Top. The six member boyband debuted around the same time as INFINITE and seemed to be on the same path of progress alongside INFINITE. But INFINITE gained pace far quicker and are already one of the best (and my favourite!). After “Supa Luv,” my favourite song by Teen Top to date is “No More Perfume On You” (produced by Sweetune). I hoped the songs would get better, but instead the Brave Brothers-produced track “Goin’ Crazy” was chosen as their 2012 comeback. I didn’t like it. I’m not a fan of the “Brave sound”. So when I heard Teen Top’s next comeback track was also going to be produced by Brave Brothers, I doubted I would like it.

When I heard the audio first, I thought the song was quite dull. But I must admit it was a poor quality upload. My opinion soon changed when I saw the MV. I loved the hard beats, 90s-inspired vibe and for once, Niel doesn’t get all the lines to sing! I especially loved the dancing. Like INFINITE, Teen Top are fantastic performers and their dancing is very in-sync. “To You” isn’t better than “No More Perfume…” but it is now my second favourite song by the group. It suits the image of the boys well and I look forward to their live performances.

When I heard SISTAR’s “Alone,” I was quite wowed. I never knew the Brave Brothers could produce such a good track! So it’s a sign the “Brave sound” has evolved and Kang Dong Chul is experimenting with newer sounds as supposed to sticking to the uptempo formula that churned out “Bingeul Bingeul” and “Man Man Ha Ni” for the likes of U-Kiss. “To You” may not be a classic, but I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. – 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

Teen Top Artist album cover members kpop
Back on top

Honourable mention

The other song I felt I should give some attention to is “My Way” by rookie girl group She’z.

She'z My Way mv screencap kpop
She’z from Line Entertainment

Pop-rock with really strong vocals. The traits very common with, erm, I dunno… Kelly Clarkson? 🙂 And Kelly is exactly the artist that came to mind when I heard the first line of the chorus. Sounds like “My Life Would Suck Without You” doesn’t it? The selling point this group has is a fresh sound and all four of them have really good vocals! Hello Venus, another rookie girl group that debuted just recently, caught my attention too. But their debut single “Venus” is the typical cutesy concept, which although good, doesn’t hold the candle to a debut song like “My Way” by She’z. I appreciate it when companies know what the market is saturated with and then take the tough decision to offer something different.

My rating for She’z “My Way” – 3 out of 5 (Good)

P.S: I also liked A-Pink’s “Hush Hush” but only when I see them dancing to it.

K-pop Round-up-Review: U-KISS, A-Pink and Trouble Maker

I didn’t want to dedicate one post to each one of these songs, and thus, one post for all. First up, a boyband that made me shut up and take them seriously this year.

U-KISS – “Tick Tack”

U-Kiss Japan single Tick Tack mv members screencap
U-Kiss deliver another smashing single to appease their fans

I know, this is their Japanese single. So technically it’s J-pop, and not K-pop. But aside from the Japanese lyrics, everything else about this song and video just reeks ‘K-pop’. From the standard ‘wiping lips with finger’ actions to the song itself. Produced by the same geniuses behind much of U-KISS’s stellar Korean album ‘Neverland,’ this song could have easily began as a Korean track that was then changed to Japanese. But for once, Japanese really works for this song — it sounds natural.

It’s a heavy dance track, yes, but the vocals are still given a chance to shine (although the ‘non-singers’ in the group, Eli and Dong Ho just mouth their allotted lines). The choreography isn’t bad and I particularly love the part at 1:40, how they spread apart with that leg dance.

U-kiss Japan pv Tick Tack screencap
Finger swiping lips. Yup, this is still K-pop alright.

I felt sorry for U-KISS after they failed to win a single award despite appearing on just about every Korean music show for nearly two months promoting “Neverland” and then “Someday”. Here’s hoping the boys do really well in Japan with “Tick Tack”.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

Update: U-KISS’s Kevin tweeted this:

U-kiss Kevin Woo tweet
Thanks Kevin, this clarifies both my doubts!

A-Pink – “My My”

One of the more hyped girl groups of 2011… but yet another that I cared a damp squib about with their first single. A-Pink, from Cube Entertainment’s sister company, were just another one of those cutesy angelic young idol groups that found a fanbase among the tween crowd and the older “oppa” crowd. I wasn’t either of them.

Their comeback song though…

… is pretty good! Sure, they still haven’t strayed away from their formula and the girls look innocent as ever. My only gripe is — man, they all look alike! Usually for such reviews, I would make a screen cap photo of each member but after figuring out four of the members, I just couldn’t figured out who the other three individuals were!

A-pink My My music video members screencap kpop

Anyway, the song. A lot of people have said it’s a throwback to the first generation of K-pop girls groups, like Fin.K.L and S.E.S. But since I never grew up listening to them, the reason this song still resonated with me is because of it’s very 90s vibe. I was instantly taken back to the days of Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover” and Shanice’s “I Love Your Smile,” and “My My” has the same retro pop vibe many such pop hits had in the 1990s. Even the dance choreography in “My My” is very 90s-inspired.

A-Pink have really good vocals, so in many ways, I feel this group will eventually grow the SNSD-way and shed their cutesy image in a year or two (and turn ‘sexy’ eventually). If not that, I hope the girls at least get different hair cuts!

A-pink My My mv screencap mithunonthenet
Yes…erm, whichever one you are… I’ll anticipate A-Pink’s next release

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (Good)

Trouble Maker – “Trouble Maker”

Another Cube Entertainment offering and a rather surprising project. 4Minute’s HyunA and B2ST’s Jang Hyunseung form the duo Trouble Maker, something quite different and not an expected idol pairing. HyunA’s hot off her “Bubble Pop” viral hit and B2ST has had a great year with “Fiction“.

Trouble Maker HyunA Hyunseung mv screencap kpop

After a steamy performance at MAMA 2011, expectations were sky high and with the song officially out, Trouble Maker doesn’t disappoint!

The instant I heard the whistle, I wondered if the people behind this track were influenced by Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger”. The other song that came to my mind upon hearing the whistle part was the hook from Perfume’s “Love Beam”. Influences aside, “Trouble Maker” still stands on its own as a funky pop song with a catchy chorus.

Troublemaker JS Hyuna video sexy screencap k-pop
What HyunaA gets in ‘sexy’ screen time, Hyunseung makes up for with more lines to sing

Cube gets a lot of criticism for promoting HyunA way too much. For good reason. I mean she already had her solo success with “Bubble Pop” and became a sex symbol overnight. From cute to sexy, Hyuna is surely one of the prettiest k-pop idols out there and Cube really have a ‘star’ on their roster. Her sexy demeanor works for Trouble Maker, but it does seem a bit unfair when an artist whose singing capabilities are lacking gets way too much attention than say, her fellow 4Minute members. Oh well, if Britney Spears can last 10 years…

Even though the song is essentially ‘Hyunseung featuring HyunA,’ for the sake of the visuals, the pairing makes sense. The MV is alright: sassy, sexy and… erm, actually I don’t know what the video was about. Two spies/agents spying on each other? Get caught, make out? Somebody gets shot in the end? Who knows, maybe there will be a continuation.

Which I hope there is. Judging by the song alone, “Trouble Maker” will be a hit and should do very well on the charts. I’m sure 2011 is not the last we have seen of these two ‘trouble makers’.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

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