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K-pop Round-up-review: SHINee, T-ara, Block B

The summer lull in K-pop is over. It’s now time for the big guns to make some noise again! I haven’t written a K-pop review in a few months, and since quite a few popular artists have made their return, I figured I too could make a comeback!

SHINee – “Everybody”

SM Ent. still seems to love dubstep. Starts off that way, but the fact that you hear the chorus even before the first verse kind of ruined the impact of the song for me. The sound is very electronic, and the interludes make the song sound like a bit of a mess at times. It’s nice to see Minho get more lines to actually sing and not squeeze in a rap line or two just to make his presence felt. “Everybody” is very much an electronic dance music (EDM) influenced pop song, and one that owes a lot to it’s pulsating chorus for much of it’s praise.

Shinee Everybody album coverOf course being a SHINee song, I look forward to the choreography as much as I look forward to hearing the song. While the choreography has its moments of sheer awesomeness, just like the messy bits of the song, some of the moves look… silly.

SHINee will of course walk off stage with a few music show wins, and that’s largely due to to power of Shawols and their rabid fanbase. I kind of wish SHINee didn’t win every single one of them for the next two months, because below is the song I feel was the better song released the same day “Everybody” came out. – 3/5

T-ara – “Number 9”

I was never really a big fan of T-ara. After all, their past hits included the downright corny “Bo Beep” and “Roly Poly“. In fact, ‘corny’ and bad Engrish are exactly what many K-pop fans expect from T-ara, and cheesiness aside, you can’t deny their songs have an infectious hook. It also helps that the girls are some of the cutest in K-pop.

That said, “Number 9” is in my opinion, T-ara’s best song so far! As the song began with a hook, I immediately thought this might end up being yet another signature, hook-driven song by Shinsadong Tiger, the producer behind most of T-ara’s biggest hits. But when Ji Yeon began her verse, I changed my tune as well. The song finally won me over with the chorus. It’s been a while since I have fallen in love with a K-pop song upon first listen. And I haven’t felt this way about a K-pop song in a long while. SM Entertainment’s productions are now largely Westernized songs with Korean lyrics. YG has their hip-hop swagger, but songs like “Number 9” is why (and how) I fell in love with K-pop in the first place!

T-ara Number 9 members screencapI’m not a teenager, so I always appreciate a more mature sound in K-pop. “Number 9′” definitely has that and the MV is just as sexy. The girls look absolutely gorgeous (no comments on Soyeon’s face) and the choreography is simple but effective. Favourite bit? The look on Hyomin’s face as she’s dancing to that hook. Sex-y!

Although watching the dance version of T-ara’s “Sexy Love” is a guilty pleasure of mine, I would never listen to a T-ara song on its own and I never had a T-ara song on my iPod. Well, not anymore. I bought the song from iTunes right away because I couldn’t stop listening to it. “Number 9” may very well be my favourite K-pop song of 2013. – 5/5

Block B – “Be the Light”
I’m highlighting this song more than “Very Good” because I really want to showcase a side of Block B that isn’t promoted much. Right from the time they debuted, Block B have been a breath of fresh air in K-pop’s cliched library of group “images” and concepts. Their attitude was that of ‘zany’ and ‘fun’. Sadly, their attitude got them into trouble among netizens and troubles with their old management firm meant Block B haven’t been able to make a comeback for quite some time.

I’ve said it the last time I reviewed Block B’s music — the group, and Zico in particular, are hella talented! “Be the Light” is a much needed comeback song. It’s a mid-tempo, emotional ode to all the crap they have been through. Sure, they returned to their usual zany form in “Very Good,” but having listened to the mini-album, I still think “Be the Light” is the best song on that compilation, and glad it got the MV treatment.

I’m just happy Block B are back. K-pop needs their energy and haters needed to get the message exaggerated controversies aren’t going to hold back talented artists. Here’s hoping for more Block B in 2014. – 4/5

Special mention:

I know this song came out a couple of weeks ago, but damn, this song needs to get some love! SPICA are a girl group known for their power vocals and this song doesn’t disappoint in more ways than one. It’s uptempo, rocking, and the melody does great justice to the girl’s voices. I even love the unconventional video (watch the girls play Holi ;)) — it’s so very indie. Definitely one of the finest K-pop highlights of 2013:

Jay Park – ‘I Like 2 Party’ mini-album review

I’m not going to begin this review by stating how much of a Jay Park fan I am. I think that’s pretty much given by now. But everytime my favourite solo K-pop artist makes a comeback, I get excited. Usually because the dude rarely disappoints!

We got a tease for “I Like 2 Party” when it was announced the song would feature in the end credits for the Korean release of Will Smith’s flopAfter Earth‘. Even in that tease, I knew the song would be awesome. And now that the song is finally out, I can safely say, “yup, it’s awesome!”.

Jay Park I Like 2 Party mv screencapHere’s a track-by-track review of the mini-album:

01. “I Like 2 Party” – Produced by Jay Park’s close friend and frequent collaborator Cha Cha Malone, “I Like 2 Party” is by far the best song he’s produced for Jay. It’s an absolute dance jam perfect for getting warmed up for a night out with friends. There are times when segments of the song sound as though the mixers tried hard to piece them together, but in the end, it sounds just fine. Watch out for Jay’s inner-Usher with a “yeeaaah manboy” at 1:36 🙂

The MV is alright. It’s isn’t well-edited to be frank, because there are a few scenes in which you notice the lips aren’t in-sync with the words. Either that or I have a hunch Jay also recorded a complete English version of “I Like 2 Party”. You also don’t get to see the choreography for the song all too well — but I’m sure there’s going to be a dance version out soon. The women aren’t Korean (for a change) and yeah, they’re sexy — but make for an odd mix with with their fluorescent colours. Then again, why one earth am I deliberating so much over a music video? The song is awesome and that’s all that matters! – 5/5

02. “Hot” – Man, what-a-club stomper! Yeah, yeah… some will say it sounds like G-Dragon’s “Crayon,” but whatever. This another smashing tune and I never expected such a good song on a four-track mini-album. – 4/5

03. “Secret” – A classic R & B track that doesn’t do anything wrong. A bit formulaic, but good enough that it didn’t make me want to skip the song. – 3/5

04. “Let’s Get Back Together” – Inspired by old school, early 1990s pop, this is a sound a I’m hearing from Jay for the first time. A decent attempt though. – 2.5/5

This mini-album is fairly uptempo, so I wonder what Jay Park has up his sleeve for his next release. Jay did reveal at the end of Jay Park TV Ep. 6 that he’s got more singles coming out soon. Since “I Like 2 Party” is just a digital release, I’m hoping for a second full-length album. From the killer “Appetizer,” the lovely “JO-AH” to the impressive “I Like 2 Party,” 2013 seems like it’s going to be another great year for Jay Park and his fans!

EXO – ‘XOXO’ album review: Rare case of album tracks > lead single

To say K-pop fans have been anticipating EXO’s comeback would be an understatement. Heck, anticipating EXO’s official debut in 2012 was such a long, played out event that it’s now become accepted Exotics have to wait ages for SM’s new boyband to put out some new music.

Of course, we all got a tease back in February when a leaked version of “Wolf” appeared online. Most people hated the song, so did I. Well, “hate” is a strong word. I laughed actually. I assumed SM was just trolling.

Now, imagine my surprise when “Wolf” actually ended up being the lead single off EXO’s first full-length album!

EXO xoxo album cover
‘XOXO’ a.k.a ‘Kiss & Hug’

Like my last EXO review, I will only be reviewing the Korean version of the album. So let’s begin, shall we?

01. “Wolf”

There is a reason why this track caused a lot of ruckus among fans when it leaked. They weren’t angry because the song leaked, they were just perplexed as to why SM Entertainment would choose such a bad song for a much anticipated comeback. The leaked version was terrible; the official release though, is far more polished — but I still don’t consider it a good song.

The unconventional nature of the song shouldn’t shock anyone considering it’s coming from the same production team responsible for SNSD’s “I Got a Boy”. But unlike IGAB, I just didn’t find myself hitting replay after first listening to “Wolf”. I only forced myself to listen to it again and again purely for the sake of this review. Just to see if it would grow on me. But even after a few days, “Wolf” is still a lame song as far as I’m concerned. I’m all for artistes trying out new sounds and breaking new grounds musically, but “Wolf” just doesn’t sway me in any positive way. It’s like SM purposely decided to avoid doing a killer song that would sweep the awards on music shows, just so EXO won’t peak early in their career.

The only saving grace is the brilliant choreography and the polished look of the MV. That’s it. – 2/5

Exo 12 members Wolf screencap

02. “Baby Don’t Cry” – One of the songs first featured on EXO’s many pre-debut teasers last year. A great ballad and a start to what I knew was going to be an otherwise great album. – 4/5

03. “Black Pearl” – Another backing track used in one of the pre-debut teasers that eventually turned into a full-fledged song. When SM put out the album teaser with snippets of each song, this was the track that really stood out for me. I loved it then and love it even more now! A dark, brooding ballad that still mixes in some great vocals and dubstep beats (still doing that, huh SM?) with the end result being a ballad none too common in K-pop. -5/5

04. “나비소녀 (Don’t Go)” – Another mid-tempo ballad that sounds as good as the boys singing it. – 4/5

05. “Let Out The Beast” – After a sting of ballads, we are back in dance territory again. This track may not be worthy of a single release, but it’s still a better song than “Wolf”. – 3/5

06. “3.6.5” – It starts out like a One Direction track, and with its European songwriting credentials, it sure does sound like one. This was another track on the album teaser which stood out to me thanks to its catchy chorus. A fun, uptempo track. – 3.5/5

07. “Heart Attack” – Slowing things down again, you would expect album filler material as we near the end. But the quality doesn’t drop as low as one would expect. This is still a very listenable track. – 3/5

08. “피터팬 (Peter Pan)” – Definitely the highlight of the song is the chorus. This track would make for a great sing-along towards the end of a concert. – 3.5/5

09. “Baby” – Produced by SM’s in-house composer Kenzie (who also worked on “Wolf”), this sweet ballad is yet another top-notch album track with a memorable chorus. – 3/5

10. “My Lady” – The final track on the album is another song that was first featured on one of the pre-debut teasers. This smooth, blues-y jam will have you bobbing your head during the pre-chorus. A good finish to put this album to a rest. – 3/5

Exo all members logo
The 12 members that make up EXO

I can’t recall just how many K-pop reviews I have written about how, other than the lead single, the rest of the album is just filler material. But EXO’s ‘XOXO’ is a rare exception. Practically every song on this album is better than the lead single “Wolf”! And it’s not just me who feels that way. Go read the comments on any of the album tracks on YouTube and you have scores of listeners who feel song ‘x’ would have made for a better single than “Wolf”.

When I heard the album teaser, I knew I was going to like the album. The quality of the songs on the album is top-notch, just like EXO’s debut mini-album was. It’s too bad the same can’t be said about “Wolf”. After waiting for more than a year, it’s disappointing EXO’s comeback single is best forgotten (as far as I’m concerned). There is always hope for a re-package album in a few months time, because I don’t think SM wants to keep fans waiting another year for just one more MV featuring the boys.

My final rating for EXO’s ‘XOXO’ (Kiss & Hug): 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

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