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SHINee – ‘Chapter 1. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You’ album review

*whispers*SHINee’s back*whispers*

Although SM Entertainment announced last year that SHINee‘s comeback would come a few months after “Sherlock” was released, it didn’t happen. I guess they had a change of plan. And so – 11 months later – SHINee officially makes a comeback — in two parts.

Shinee Dream Girl album cover
Part 1 is ‘Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You’

Let’s just get straight into the review:

1. “Spoiler” – No, they aren’t trolling you with the intro, which sounds exactly how “Sherlock” starts. Penned by member Jhong Hyun and cleverly containing all the titles of the songs in the album, the opening track is actually produced by Thomas Troelsen – the same Danish songwriter behind “Sherlock”. The chorus, although heavily processed, is the best bit. A recurring theme as you will see. – 4/5

2. “Dream Girl” – The lead single:

Oddly enough, I wasn’t blown away like I assumed I would be. I heard the audio when “Dream Girl” first released and thought it was just okay. A listenable track, yes, but nothing special. The chorus — which is what made “Sherlock” so good — is just okay this time around. The rest of the song also felt a bit plain.

But when the music video came out, I watched the dance version first — because I’m always more keen on seeing SHINee dance! Again, the choreography was… okay; and I didn’t like the song any better. It wasn’t until I watched the actual MV that I appreciated the song more. For once, SM produces a video that isn’t one of their typical box videos, and actually attempts to do something different this time around. With all the bouncing off the walls, waking up from their dreams and flickering outfits, I somehow enjoyed the song more with these visuals.

No comments on the pants though. A good song, but not a SHINee “classic” in my opinion. – 3/5

3. “Hitchhiking/히치하이킹” – Another strong chorus-driven song. When the album sampler hit YouTube, this was the first song that I fell in love with it. Funky instrumentation with a rap verse that doesn’t sound forced for once. Definitely one of my favourite songs on the album. – 4/5

4. “Punch Drunk Love” – SM describes this song as: “cute melody with the lyric that compares the feeling of being in love to the dizziness that comes after getting a punch in a boxing”. Okay. Adam Sandler’s movie of the same name aside, this song reinforces the vibe the album producers were going for throughout: 1970s funk. Another good song! – 3/5

5. “Girls, Girls, Girls” – After four songs more or less on the same tempo train, SHINee slows things down with this upbeat ballad. It’s a good song girls will sure love, but somehow it’s always noticeable how most Koreans pronounce it “gurls” 🙂 – 3/5

6. “Aside” – Another upbeat ballad reminiscent of a classic ’70s love song. The verses give way to a catchy chorus that is sure make it on to some OST. Really loving the songs on this album so far! – 4/5

7. “Beautiful/아름다워” – The second song I instantly fell in love with from the album sampler was this track. Again, because of the chorus! So very Michael Jackson (or The Jacksons), which should be obvious when you find out this song is composed by longtime MJ-producer Teddy Riley! – 4/5

8. “Dynamite/다이너마이트” – By now we should be expecting at least some album filler material, but I couldn’t write this song off simply because the chorus comes to the rescue yet again. – 3/5

9. “Runaway” – The final track on the album sounds different from everything else up to this point. The sound mixing enhances the boy’s natural vocals but other than that, this very much a K-pop track that I probably wouldn’t be listening to a whole lot after this review goes live. – 2/5

Shinee Dream Girl MV screencap The one phrase I could use to describe this album is best summed up by Roxette’s greatest hits album ‘Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus!‘. It couldn’t be more true for most of the songs on the tracklist. Just when you think the songs are worth skipping, the choruses make you reconsider. Although most of the tracks are composed by Thomas Troelsen and hitchiker, there’s still an overarching theme that is consistent from start to finish.

Clearly influenced by 1970’s funk and pop, it’s a refreshing sound in today’s electronic world, and no better suited than for SHINee. A group that showed how well they could pull off Michael Jackson-esque music with songs like “Juliette” years ago. SHINee’s vocalists (especially the powerful Jhong Hyun) can certainly pull it off in style.

That said, “Dream Girl” certainly isn’t a song I find myself going back to a lot. I still listen to “Lucifer,” “Sherlock,” “Replay” and Juliette” at least once a month. I doubt “Dream Girl” will join that playlist. As for the rest of album — hell yes! Another example where in the album tracks outshine the lead single. And if SM Enterntainment could cram in five to six great songs in this compilation, I can’t wait to see what they have in store when ‘Chapter 2’ comes out in April!

My final rating for SHINee’s 3rd full-length album ‘Chapter 1. Dream Girl – The Misconceptions of You’: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

Rainbow – ‘Rainbow Syndrome – Part 1’ album review: DSP screws up another comeback

For a long time, Rainbow has been my second favourite K-pop girl group after SNSD. I didn’t care much for their debut single but it was the stellar “A” and “Mach,” both released in 2010, that won me over. I also find the girls very pretty and by the end of 2010, I assumed Rainbow would achieve stellar success in the coming years!

But they didn’t.

Rainbow’s 2011 comeback was disappointing and their company, DSP Media (the same folks behind uber-successful Kara), left them in the lurch for much too long. I felt really sad for the members. The girls never seemed to get a good break — be it in music or even on variety shows.

So when it was announced Rainbow would finally be making a comeback after a span of nearly 1 year and 7 months(!), I was overjoyed, but at the same time, worried. Knowing how often DSP have screwed up in the past, it was a cause for concern.

Rainbow members Syndrome kpop album

Here’s a track-by-track review:

01. “Golden Touch” – Such a straight ’80s-inspired pop song! From the beats, instrumentation and melody, everything about this song reeks 1980s-pop 🙂 (Did Sweetune work on this?). As dated as I may sound, it was quite refreshing to hear a song like this in Korean. All I could imagine were the members of Rainbow with hair-dos a la ’80s Madonna, ha ha! Love it! – 4/5

02. “두 눈을 감고 (Close Your Eyes)” – I wasn’t expecting a ballad this early in the tracklist, but here you go. Although the tempo feels a bit run-of-the-mill, I still found myself listening to it quite a bit. It may feel like a standard girly K-pop ballad, but track 2 raised my hopes up for the rest of the album. – 3/5

03. “Tell Me, Tell Me” – The much anticipated comeback single:

*Sigh* I’ll just say it. This song is just disappointing. My earlier worry about DSP screwing up have been proven right. “Tell Me, Tell Me” would have worked as a single… back in 2009-10 when a girl group debuted as a rookie! This is not a song worthy of a group like Rainbow and that too after making fans wait 1 year & 7 months for a comeback! It’s bland, uninspired, and choc-full of mediocrity. From the girl’s styling, to the music video’s set, and even the choreography.

Rainbow Tell Me Tell Me dance outfits mv screencap
Was DSP attempting a “Gee” for Rainbow?

Jaekyung – one of the hottest girls in K-pop – has in fact gotten gotten the worst hair treatment among the members in this MV. You would think with all the money DSP earns from Kara, they would invest in better talent to make their other artists look good. The outfits are plain, and I’m not sure Rainbow can pull off the “cute” concept at this stage of their lives. Jisook, Yoon Hye and the like, yes, but all of them as a group – no. Rainbow should have stuck with the mature concepts and kept “cute” for Rainbow Pixie – their sub-unit.

Anyway, I digress. To sum it up, “Tell Me, Tell Me” is a very forgettable track. – 2/5

04. “Cosmic Girl” – It’s not often I have listened to a K-pop comeback album and found another track better suited for a single release than the one that eventually did. This is one such track. Easily my pick for the “best song” on this album! Uptempo, funky, great chorus and a very good track in every sense. – 4/5

05. “나만 아는 너는 절대 모를 이야기” – Translated to “The Story Only I Know You Will Never Know,” this album-filler keeps the tempo going. Very reminiscent of a typical IU song, this isn’t a bad album-filler though. – 3/5

06. “In Love” – The final track is a sweet, saccharine finish to what has been a fairly uptempo album. It isn’t until this song you get to hear some of the girls hit the high notes, which was sorely missing for much of the album. – 3.5/5

Rainbow Tell Me Tell Me Syndrome members k-popIt’s very rare I have liked the album tracks on a K-pop album more than the lead single, but this is unfortunately the case with ‘Syndrome – Part 1’. I scored every track higher than “Tell Me, Tell Me” because it really is the most boring song on the tracklist. Even as I was wrapping up this review, I kept replaying every track except “Tell Me, Tell Me.”

I know there’s a second part to ‘Syndrome’ coming and I have a hunch we may see an edgier concept for the next release. But why after such a long hiatus DSP thought “Tell Me, Tell Me” would work is beyond me. In my opinion, it only lessens Rainbow’s image on the K-pop scene. They had something going for them and now the girls are neither here, nor there. Sure, I loved their cutesy Japanese single “Candy Girls” — but at least that was a catchy song with some cute dance moves. “Tell Me, Tell Me” has nothing special going for it.

This isn’t the first time DSP messed up a comeback. After the stellar “Step,” Kara took a mis-step with “Pandora,” which wasn’t the girl group’s finest. And now, same is the case with Rainbow. I haven’t heard a great Korean single from Rainbow since “Mach,” and I can’t understand why it’s so hard for DSP to get it right.

Rainbow had as much a chance to be the next big K-pop girl group. Their name is synonymous, the girls are pretty, they have a sexy member, a cute member, a funny member, good-at-acting member, and everything else Koreans can get into. From strong vocals to rapping, I see nothing Rainbow lacks as a girl group. All that is lacking is DSP’s  management of the group.

If Rainbow continues to flounder, it will all be DSP Media’s fault. I really hope ‘Syndrome – Part 2’ has a stellar single to raise the roof – because it’s what the girls need, badly! Rainbow’s “Gee” should have come by now. So whatever DSP has planned for Rainbow’s next comeback, they better make it fast. Rainbow has wasted enough time out of the limelight, and this comeback isn’t going to help win them many new fans.

My final rating for Rainbow – ‘Syndrome – Part 1’ is:

Rainbow Tell Me Tell Me Jisook kpop
A better album than a weak lead single

K-pop Round-up-Review: Nine Muses, DMTN and Crayon Pop

SNSD kicked off 2013 in K-pop with quite a comeback. But many other acts too have decided to make this January an action-packed release calendar. With comebacks by rookies and some familiar names, here I highlight the three that really caught my attention this month.

Nine Muses – “Dolls”

Nine Muses members Dolls

A girl group who debuted in 2010 and was marketed as a “model” group by their label. They put together a nine-member group (*gee, I wonder why 9*), all of whom were really tall and looked really good! Sadly, like many other rookie groups from the smaller companies, their debut single sucked, and was soon forgotten.

Member shake-ups later, the group saw a resurgence thanks to songs produced by Sweetune (my favourite K-pop producers). Beginning in 2011 with “Figaro,” “News” and “One Way Ticket” — all of which were funky good! So when news broke the now back-to-nine member girl group was making a comeback in 2013 with another Sweetune track, it piqued my interest!

“Dolls” is a song that has all the hallmarks of a Sweetune production. Thumping disco-inspired beats, guitar hooks and the song structure where the chorus after the bridge goes up a notch vocally. But as much as it is a decent song, I can’t help but wonder if Sweetune are now running out of ideas when it comes to new music. They are the producers behind all the big hits by KARA and Infinite. Which means, a lot more music companies are approaching Sweetune hoping to replicate their success.

SPICA and Boyfriend have both worked with Sweetune on their recent comebacks, and because of that, the songs are starting to feel way too familiar. “Dolls” could have easily been sung by SPICA, leaving Nine Muses with no real identity or unique “concept” of their own.

That said, “Dolls” is still a very-listenable track and I can’t help but visualize the dance the girls do during the chorus even when I’m not watching the music video. It’s a very simple move that totally works for the song whereas the rest of the choreography is just plain.

Nine Muses have another hit on their hands to help expand their growing fanbase, but given they are still at an early stage of their career, it would be nice if the girls carved a niche out for themselves — image-wise or music-wise. – 3 out of 5

DMTN – “Safety Zone”

The boyband formerly known as Dalmatian was just another rookie group I couldn’t take seriously at debut. Why? Because they were called Dalmatian! And corny-enough, they wore spotted-white jackets and sang silly songs. But their first album, had a few album tracks I liked and by then I realized this was yet another burgeoning group trapped under a concept ill-conceived by their management.

Last year, they broke free. Member changes followed and from a six-member group they were down to five. Fortunately proper English-speakers made it into the group and Dalmatian made a very strong comeback with “E.R.”. With a much more mature image – both musically and physically – Dalmatian really won me over. And now, the transformation is complete. Dalmatian is no more; DMTN is in!

DMTN Safety Zone MV screencap

“Desire, Motivation, Timing, Now,” according to Korean-American member Daniel, is what the group’s name stands for. Whatever. All I care about is how good their new music is.

“Safety Zone” is another song produced by Duble Sidekick, the same production team behind “E.R.”. The song is a mid-tempo piano-tinged track that, fortunately in DMTN’s favour, doesn’t sound like any other song from a boyband currently promoting. It’s a heartfelt song about a man who wishes the girl he loves would stay near him so he can protect her from all harm — thus the man being the “safety zone”. The MV sees Daniel getting beat up when she doesn’t oblige. Or at least that’s what I understood 😛

The instrumentation and the guitar-wailing in this song could have very well made this song a power ballad had it not been for the thumping beats. It’s still a very good song that I had on replay over and over. And because the music video didn’t feature any choreographed dancing, I enjoyed the song even without feeling the need watch the MV. Something I couldn’t do really do with songs like SNSD’s “I Got a Boy”.

So in other words, another great comeback from DMTN who seem to be on the right track in carving out a niche for themselves. That said, did that guy really have to sing “I’m in a SAF-tey zone, I’m in a SAF-tey zone…“? 🙂 – 3.5 out of 5

Crayon Pop

This might not sound like much like of a review, but ever since I stumbled upon rookie group Crayon Pop last month, I can’t help but not write about these girls!

The video that made me fall in love with Crayon Pop was this:

Dancing Queen” isn’t their first single. “Saturday Night” and “Bing Bing” preceded it, but Crayon Pop are back promoting “Bing Bing” and have managed to secure appearances on some of the music programs.

It’s been a struggle for them really. Coming from a small agency – Chrome Entertainment – they don’t have the resources (read: money) to produce expensive music videos or even get TV show appearances.

Which is a damn shame! Because if you want something different and fun in this formulaic world of Korean pop, Crayon Pop is your answer! It was love at first sight when I watched the many versions of “Dancing Queen” the girls performed on the busy streets of Seoul; in the hopes passerby would record them, upload the videos online and achieve viral success. It’s a clever marketing strategy when the mainstream options are harder to crack in today’s cut-throat K-pop market.

Crayon Pop anime members
Support Crayon Pop!

I love the unique style the girls have going for them. Cute, funky songs with a retro-vibe, equally matched by fun choreography. I mean, check out the Korean LMFAO and aerobics-like dance moves in the “Saturday Night” MV!

I love the sense of humour Crayon Pop’s image has. From their wacky concepts, trainer outfits, to their dances — they just make you smile while watching them perform! It’s so refreshing to see these girls do their adorable dances. Sure there’s a lot of English that needs improving but I see a bright future for Crayon Pop — if not in Korea, surely in Japan! It’s a market prime for their brand of zany humour. Makes sense to focus on Japan, which is also where “Bing Bing” was filmed:

Their choreography being what it is, it’s no surprise more and more dance covers are being uploaded on to YouTube. I’d say, go for it! Whatever helps Crayon Pop get more attention. For now, “Dancing Queen” remains my favourite Crayon Pop single to date and it will be interesting to see how the girl’s concept evolves as the years go by.

“Dancing Queen” – 4 out of 5

“Saturday Night” – 2.5 out of 5

“Bing Bing” – 3 out of 5

Support Crayon Pop and check out their videos on their official YouTube channel. There have uploaded so many!

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