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Category: Korean Entertainment (page 1 of 2)

Reinventing the NCT concept

I have so many thoughts about NCT 2018 Empathy. So many. Most of them are not positive, but I remain hopeful.

If you’re just joining this comeback cycle, I was not a huge fan of NCT U’s “Boss” but liked NCT Dream’s “Go” despite my dreamies being all grown up. The more I listen to “Go,” the more of a Haechan appreciator I’m become. His voice is gorgeous and he uses it impeccably. (“Boss” is growing on me, ngl. Listening to it on headphones is like suddenly going underwater and seeing all the coral reefs and fishes when previously you were just been dog paddling above the surface.)

However, that brings us to NCT 127 and “Touch.” Writing about it means that I should post the music video on my channel and for that I hate myself a little bit.

This video makes me cringe.

It’s clear that Dream and 127 swapped concepts for this comeback, with Dream taking the hard-edged grotty urban-inflected hip-hop sound, and 127 covering the squeaky-clean brightly lit bubblegum pop arena. However, unlike Dream’s previous singles (even “Chewing Gum”), “Touch” doesn’t have a twist, or a nudge-and-wink, or a naughty streak. It’s just plain, simple bright smiles and boyfriend material.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that–there certainly isn’t. But it isn’t why I started listening to NCT and certainly isn’t what attracts me to k-pop.

I recognize that I’m not the typical fan (I’m older than most of their target market), because I see the younger fans clearly enjoying the visuals of all the members in this comeback. And yes, they are all very good looking. But I miss the gonzo NCT styling which even applied to Dream when they were promoting. There are no fur hats or eyeball rings and shark jackets or fantasy military jackets. Or Gucci on a hoverboard.

It’s not just the visuals that bother me, though. The actual song “Touch” is really corporate sounding, like you’d stick it into a commercial for an off-brand soda. Frankly, it sounds like a reject from EXO’s winter album that some underling producer got stuck with trying to “funk it up” for NCT.

Which brings us to the Empathy album as a whole, which someone remarked should be called NCT 2016-2018 since it contains all the assorted non-album releases since NCT debuted. “Black on Black,” all of the NCT U songs. NCT U’s “The Seventh Sense” was the first song that drew me to NCT, and if I had discovered it on an album like Empathy, I don’t know if I would have explored more. (Of course it was Dream’s “My First and My Last” that really got me. NCT Dream is secretly everybody’s favorite.)

Specifically, I dislike albums that are all single and no b-side. Even with the intro and outro, there’s no reason for me to listen to Empathy on its own. NCT has always been weak in their discography–partly because they’re still experimenting with their sound but also because they only have mini albums and don’t have a body of work built up like a band like EXO or Big Bang did. Granted, the inherent structure of NCT’s design would make it more difficult to build up a body of coherent work, because they’re built up of subunits with different themes and sounds.

Even more specifically, I’m really disappointed by the song “Yest0day.” Interesting title, not a bad hook, fantastic rap from Mark (who is really starting to hone his chops), all ruined by an idiotic rap from Lucas. One of the main reasons I like k-pop is that even when the rap is simplistic or lacking finesse it’s not dumb. I hate dumb rap where they take a word and then rhyme it five times in a row without any rhythmic variation or wordplay or anything. Mark delivers the opposite of that. So does Taeyong. But Lucas the Usurper? No more dumb rap, please.

Now. Granted. Part of this sounds like the knee-jerk reaction of someone who is protective of a fledgling k-pop group. And that is true, I like NCT and being a person high in openness, I like the idea of an ever-expanding group that can shift to accommodate different musical styles and moods.

But it’s hard to watch SM deliberately crash the original NCT concept. One of the benefits of doing it now is that I know that I won’t have to watch it happen in slow motion, when producers run out of ideas and the concepts all start to morph slowly into each other and enough members leave that all the subunits are consolidated to keep the group alive. At least we don’t have that future.

Maybe (hah) this means that we can get more clarity out of future NCT subunits, who will emerge to deposit a well-conceived package of music into our earballs before evaporating back into the nebulous NCT mothership. (Isn’t that what the concept was supposed to be anyway?)

I suspect that the deliberate switching of Dream and 127’s concepts, plus the cataloging of U’s random singles into one album, serves as a zeroing-out for the group. I think this is supposed to be a new start, a time for all the subunits to develop empathy for each other’s concepts and learn how to work together or whatever. However they promote from this point forward, it won’t be the NCT that we started with.

On the plus side, SM is always A/B testing, so I’m hoping we’ll get something stronger out of this. The concepts for both Super Junior and EXO crashed too, and both groups did alright for themselves.


PS: SM Entertainment, this is my request for an official Mark/Haechan subunit.

Red Velvet Appreciation Post: Body Talk

I don’t think I’ve talked about Red Velvet on this particular blog. Red Velvet has a special place in my heart.

One of the fun side-along problems with my autoimmune problems has been a propensity to depression and melancholy. I don’t think I’ll ever shake my love of melancholy, but after cleaning up my diet, I no longer get depressed or on a melancholy streak or “coffee depression” like I once did.

I know this, because I’ve started listening to much happier music. Namely, k-pop. Red Velvet was one of the groups that clued me into this, because in the past I never would have been able to listen to “pop” music for a long period of time without it grating on my nerves for going against whatever (bad) mood I was in.

Now, Red Velvet is a very R&B-inflected pop group who doesn’t shy away from dark themes and minor keys, so it’s pop that is very much in line with my melancholy tendencies. It’s just way happier overall.

So when I realized that I was listening to almost nothing but k-pop, I realized that on the whole I was in a much better mood, and had been for a few months. I realized this while listening to Red Velvet’s “Ice Cream Cake,” which is still one of my favorites.

Specifically about Body Talk, tho

“Body Talk” is one of my favorite b-sides from Red Velvet. (For those of you new to k-pop, a b-side is basically any song published by a group that’s not a title track–the ones with the music videos that are used for promotion.) It’s a fantastic example of the RV girls doing their best R&B-inflected singing, and I am particularly fond of atmospheric, orchestral pop arrangements. The harmonies are lush and the chord progression is really interesting. As with most k-pop I listen to, it’s better with headphones.

I also really like how it reminds me of those late-80s fantasy movies with the synth-heavy theme songs.

NCT Dream grew up

But the dirty grotty basslines that characterize NCT title tracks will never die.

I’m definitely not complaining.

We all thought Mark was ‘graduating’ from Dream because he’s an adult now. I guess that was before SM rethought the entire concept of NCT.

And yet he’s back and rapping better than ever.

There’s a reason he’s my ultimate NCT bias.

Fun with Venn diagrams and k-pop

Twitter is a wonderland. Today’s bounty of wonder came in the form of a Venn diagram featuring the many incarnations of NCT.

The problem (“””problem”””) with this particular Venn diagram is that it’s entirely in Hangul, except for song titles which are deliberately in English.

This is not a problem–this is a puzzle! It’s a matter of cross-checking the members in each song with the other songs that they’re in, under which group. The name in the most-overlapping triangle, for instance, is Mark since he’s debuted with every group so far, and nearly every song. (He’s missing only from the NCT U vocal songs–Timeless and Without You–and the upcoming Tae/Ten release.

Then, I double-checked myself with the Hangul alphabet to make sure I had all of the names right, like in the case of Lucas and Jungwoo who both debuted with NCT U but haven’t yet done anything else, or the Dreamies.

Here’s a version in the Latin alphabet for us Westerners.

It’s a little messy but I didn’t want to completely obliterate the Hangul characters.

This is so much fun to look at. I’m excited for the rest of NCT 2018 and what different combinations they’ll come up with. Perhaps a Venn diagram will be impossible in the future–we’ll see.

Speaking of NCT 2018, we have been blessed with fancam of Taeyong and Ten’s Baby Don’t Stop which isn’t due to be released for a few more days.

300% better than Boss, tbh.

The styling is perfect. The choreo is dope and perfectly suited to this duo. The song is catchy as whoa. Sign me up.


NCT will fight U

NCT U is back y’all.

Honestly? I’m not that into it. It reminds me a little of the pre-debut test Bassbot, but without the musical or choreographic interest.

The Eastern Bloc-inspired uniforms and Ukrainian architecture can stay, but everything else can slide on by.


That doesn’t mean we can’t have some NCT appreciation. Or is it analysis?

Boss sounds like an NCT 127 track, but has the delicate task of debuting two new members. Hence it being a U song.

Like NCT 127’s Limitless, Boss is a rather unsubtle statement of NCT’s goals. The meme behind “limitless” was simultaneously the number of members in NCT, but also drilling the idea for limitless potential into the heads of the members. Same with Cherry Bomb: I’m the biggest hit on the stage.

In a behind-the-scenes video for Boss, Mark talked about how the video starts with all the members fighting over who’s boss, and ends with them realizing that they’re a team. I get the teambuilding exercise, but is it really the greatest idea to meme a fight between Taeyong and Mark into existence when a new members are lurking?

Oh, wait, I forgot this is SM Entertainment. Of course it makes sense to pit all of them against each other, especially as we’re bringing in new members. It’s basically a thematic representation of how some of us feel about the new members.

The Boss video features Lucas the Usurper, who is apparently a 3rd rapper in the NCT crew. Lucas was probably supposed to be the leader of group that would have included Kun and Jungwoo, plus others from the auditions. I wonder if SM wasn’t getting good auditioners? I wish we knew more about the sudden switch to NCT EVERYONE ALL AT ONCE.

Anyway, I’m not endeared to Lucas. He is direct competition for my boy Mark. I am not one of those all-inclusive fans. I want Mark to win, always. Just keeping it real, folks.

Jungwoo has a nice voice. He can stay.


On the style front, let’s appreciate the return of NC-TURTLENECK.

Thank you, Jaehyun, for your contribution.

NCT Batting Order

So SM Entertainment released a couple “video yearbooks” to promote NCT.

(Of course Taeyong is the thumbnail! That guy is so symmetrical his visuals could hurt someone.)

It’s kind of a fun way to introduce the crew, especially since it’s everybody all together, and help people learn names and personalities.

I’ve been trying to identify each of their personas, so this is a great opportunity to see how each member is presented.

Here’s a numbered list because I’m not sure how many of them there are these days:

  1. Taeyong the Most Beautiful Rapper in the World
  2. Jaehuyn the All-American Korean Poetic Beauty
  3. Jungwoo (new)
  4. Winwin the Romantic Angel Prince
  5. Ten the Bond Villain (Dramatic)
  6. Jisung the Bboy (Athletic)
  7. Jaemin (not really new, but might as well be)
  8. Yuta the Mischievous
  9. Haechan the meek lamb schoolboy not the cheeky maknae no sir not a foot out of line
  10. Chenle the Savant (Ingenious?)
  11. Taeil the Inexplicable (Smart but weird, not stable like Professor Doyoung)
  12. Kun (new)
  13. Johnny the Not Sure Why He’s There But He Sure Is Cool
  14. Lucas (new)
  15. Doyoung the Professor (seriously he is prefect for this role it suits him so well)
  16. Renjun, He of the Long Neck. I think they’re trying to push a smart, elegant, classical look with him. He’s such a tranquil person.
  17. Jeno the Lady Killer
  18. Mark who is the best don’t lie to yourself, the most creativest and hardest working

Eighteen, okay! That’s a lot. One more than…Seventeen…

This list is bookended by the two anchors-slash-rappers, Taeyong and Mark. Second and second-to-last is the visual from that leader’s subunit, Jaehyun from 127 and Jeno from Dream. The others kind of weave in and out together, interspersing the newly debuted trainees (Jungwoo, Kun, Lucas) and the guys who had debuted but who subsequently got injured (Jaemin, Ten).

Interesting how Ten still managed to impress a personality upon all of us even when he wasn’t promoting, but Jaemin wasn’t. Jaemin reminds me of people like Lea Michelle who are born and bred in the ~musical theater~ system and who have no personality of their own. To be fair, I think Jaemin had a huge issue with his back and Ten did release a SM Station song fairly recently. But still.

Not sure where they’re going with Haechan’s persona. He was such a troublemaker when he first debuted–the cheeky one–but now they’re trying to brand him as a scholar. My money is still on him for having the most public meltdown, if it comes to it.

SM has been really pushing Mark lately. I don’t mind–he is my bias, after all–but I hope it doesn’t backfire. I want Mark to have a long, successful career.

I was wrong. NCT U has reappeared.

A while back, I gave nicknames to all the debuted NCT units.

NCT U will never see them again

NCT 127 members to keep track of

NCT Dream of getting bigger than EXO someday

I was wrong. (Sort of.)

NCT U just reappeared on SM Station.

Although it’s great to see them back again, I don’t love the song. SM has been doing a lot of thin, light compositions lately. Sometimes they work well, like Red Velvet’s “Peek-a-Boo.” Other times, not so much. This is one of those times. I think it’s because the melody is quite monotonous–not in the sense that it repeats, but in the sense that it hovers around the same note. Taylor Swift does this a lot too.

I appreciate the aesthetics of the music video, although I question the heavy use of filters. The moody lighting and the botanicals are so very delightful. I would like a carpet that is a bed of moss.

All that said, SM Station is the delivery vehicle for one-offs. That means NCT U probably isn’t coming back any time soon. But really, the vocal-centric NCT U is essentially the NCT 127 vocal line so…whatever. We’ll see them again. The rap-centric NCT U is where it’s at but I suspect they are gone for good. :’-(


In other news, apparently various NCT members are in the Ukraine filming a new MV.

Mark, Doyoung, and Jaehyun are in Ukraine. I think that’s Taeil behind them. And then we have Taeyong and some rookies, Lucas and Jungwoo. I don’t pay attention to SM Rookies, TBH, but it looks like we’re going to get some new debuts.

Jaehyun took a leave of absence from NCT Night Night (Red Velvet’s Wendy is filling in), but Johnny did not.

Johnny, Yuta, and Haechan participated in the Idol Athletic Championships so obviously they’re not participating in whatever’s going on in the Ukraine.

I was hoping against hope that rap-centric NCT U (rap) would be making a comeback, but alas. Ten seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, which also dashes my hope for a Ten-centered NCT unit based out of Thailand.

Maybe we’re getting NCT U-kraine. Hah.

The K-drama Black Knight was recently filmed in Slovenia, now NCT is filming in the Ukraine. Interesting micro-trend.

A very personal review of EXO’s Universe

After so many amuse bouche posts about k-pop teasers and comebacks, I’m finally going to serve up a main course by telling you my thoughts on an entire album.

This is largely because EXO’s latest winter album, Universe, actually sounds like an album.

One of my biggest problems with k-pop is that it the industry focuses almost exclusively on singles. (American pop does this too, so I shouldn’t complain too much.) But as someone who appreciates the musical journey that a well-crafted album can provide, I miss that in k-pop. At its best, you get a 4-minute chunk of a pure emotion-bubble. No story, no journey, no connection.

So when the songs on this summer’s The War feel like they belong together, like they could all be found on the same menu in the same restaurant, I was ecstatic. Some of the songs are quite good, too.

I’m pleased to say that the musical cohesiveness has continued into the winter album. All the songs sound related, in roughly the same color palette–even though they have different emotional hooks.

Universe is just beautiful. A sweeping rock ballad with a generous dash of “longing” and and an English hook of “I’ll search the universe” with the unspoken FOR YOU that hooks all of us womenfolk.

The b-side that I’ve heard the most chatter about is Been Through. This might be because the songwriters are good at promoting themselves on Twitter. Part of me wants to love it; it’s a beautifully-orchestrated, sparse pop song. It’s not often that you hear pizzicato in pop strings, and the effect contrasts well with EXO’s lush vocals. What I don’t love is how the chorus sounds like American pop music. The rhyming “You shine like the stars / you light up my heart” takes me immediately to the arena of overly saccharine indie pop which spoils the mood somewhat.

A contender for my favorite is Stay. The piano and the semi-flat analog sound of the recording are a refreshing change of pace from the normal bright and clean acoustics. This song showcase’s EXO’s vocal ability well, with a repeating motif of thirds (I think–my music theory is a bit rusty) that weaves subtly through the different verses. Honestly I’ve never been much of a fan of Suho’s vocals but he’s winning me over in this song. His verse with Kai–who tries so hard–is charming.

My nominees for “most forgettable” on this album are Fall and  Good Night. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they’re not as good as they other songs. Fall is a pretty standard R&B ballad, nothing too special. The guitar line is nice. As far as Good Night, I want to hate the synth sound for being so jarring with the acoustic (or fake acoustic) sounds of the other songs, but if I take a step back it’s a nice palate cleanser.

Finally, we have Lights Out, which has a beautiful moving bass line under the piano line and melody. The use of voice-as-instrument reminds me of Enya’s Shepherd Moons album–absolutely stunning. Sung by our vocal line (Chen, Baekhyun, DO, Suho), this is the song I would most love to see performed live with a piano and an upright bass.


Anyway, if the vocals on Universe have not already inspired you to wish for a Chen solo album, Lights Out will. [Edit: it appears that Chen wrote this song as well, so I will upgrade this wish to a Chen singer/songwriter solo album.]

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album. I have two overall criticisms. Though I’ve praised this album for sounding cohesive, sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t sound too much of the same. The fact that I can skip 2 songs out of 6 without changing the “feeling” of the album says a lot for the repetition in tone and in instrumentation.

Universe delves into melancholy territory that EXO has never tackled. It’s nice to hear some songs predominantly in minor key (not just for effect or contrast), but the overall effect is downer rather than upper. One of the things that I like the most about K-pop in general is that it’s optimistic and happy without being overbearing about it. Even when EXO’s previous winter title tracks have been sad, they never dwelt on it (musically at least–I can’t speak to the lyrics). This album leaves me feeling hollow in a way that K-pop never has. I appreciate that, but I’m not sure I like it.

Moving forward, I hope that the members and SM’s music team can capitalize on this year of excellent music and keep up this level of quality. The Japan album looks to be great. I’m hoping for another “Forever” in our future.


“A Very Personal Review” means that I’m no expert, this is merely my subjective opinion that I’m writing because I like this album and want to share it with the world. I don’t listen widely to (Western) pop or to K-pop, so I can’t situate this group or this album in a wider context, nor can I give a good music theory perspective on it.

Image of the Week: Speaking of vaporwave in k-pop edition

I’m a bad publicist. EXO just released their winter album, so I should be shilling for that.

Instead, here’s a photo from the teaser from their Japan debut, which was released a month ago and scheduled for a month from now.

Please note: vaporwave.

Twice and EXO looking to have a Japan vaporwave showdown.

I’m here for that.


Happy last Friday of 2018, y’all.

Twice so vaporwave

I thought that the vaporwave trend would be wrapping up soon, but judging from the amount of K-pop groups who are using vaporwave stylistic influences to promote in Korea and Japan, I’m not so sure. EXO was the last that I noticed using vaporwave, especially in their upcoming promotion in Japan (but also in the “Power” video).

Twice is the latest group to go full vaporwave.

Glitchy video: check.

Pink and/or purple color scheme, heavy on the gradients: check.

Gratuitous backlighting and neon: check.

Random unrelated geometric shapes: also check.

Google and wiki tell me that vaporwave was born of the online indie music scene in the early 2010’s, which means in internet year’s it has probably outspent its welcome.

But if K-pop is pulling vaporwave influences–and more than one entertainment company, Twice is with JYP and EXO is with SM–and other groups pull influence from K-pop (citation needed), it stands to reason that eventually vaporwave will show back up in the “traditionally” produced media. About 8 years too late. Whatever “late” means these days.

Please note: I know that I am late to the vaporwave party.

I’m just interested to see how much Korean pop music is going to influence everything else, especially now that it’s “officially” out of the bubble. (Thanks, BTS. I think.)

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