reality is weirder than you think

Tag: k-pop (page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

Who needs internet when you can have… No internet

Sorry for the interruption, folks, but my “easy” “self-install” internet is neither of those things.

It’s probably good that you’re not getting a proper post tonight, because it would be another k-pop post.


Always A/B Testing

One of the things I admire most about SM Entertainment is that they are constantly iterating and A/B testing the groups, songs, and concepts that they produce.

If you pay attention to how they operate as an entity, rather than focusing exclusively on one of their groups, you can see a real-time example of why they’re one of the biggest entertainment groups in k-pop.

They’ve created entire “entertainment properties” to showcase this A/B testing.

SM Rookies

Before NCT debuted as its various subgroups, SM conducted rigorous testing through the online series SM Rookies. They tried out various different configurations of trainee groups. Sometimes this is really rough, as with the “SR15B dance practice” video, or music-video quality in the case of “Bassbot” and “Super Moon.”

“Super Moon” is interesting because of the three members–Taeyong, Johnny, and Hansol–featured in it, Hansol did not debut with any NCT units. In fact, he’s no longer under contract with SM Entertainment.

I suspect this is because Hansol has an almost identical “look” as Yuta, who did debut with NCT 127.

[Warning: unknown quantities of confirmation bias ahead.]

With male groups, SM tends to assemble a variety of different types. For example, if you compare a photo of EXO with a photo of BTS, you can see what I mean. EXO members each have their own charm, while–with the exception of Rap Monster–BTS members have a similar vibe. NCT is no exception to this, as you can label each member as “The ______ One” even if you know nothing about their personalities.

If you compare Hansol and Yuta in other footage from SM Rookies, Yuta is hungrier. Despite being Japanese, Yuta has been described as “more Korean than the Koreans.” You can literally watch Yuta work solidify his status as “the sexy one” as NCT 127 has practiced, promoted, and performed “Cherry Bomb” this year. (I have the YouTube receipts for this–let me know in the comments if you want me to post them.)

From my completely outsider perspective, it makes sense that if you have two trainees who look almost identical but have different work ethics, you’ll pick the one who is going to work harder.

SM Station

One of SM’s staples on YouTube is SM Station, which features single songs that are collaborations, off-brand concepts for an existing group, or other “random” things. There are a lot of fun songs under this umbrella. (Don’t mind me plugging my boy Chen again.)

Right now, I suspect that they’re testing a subgroup or solo venture featuring Wendy from Red Velvet. In the past months, she’s been featured in two different SM Station releases.

One is a jazz version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which prominently features the fact that she’s an English speaker and a strong vocalist.

The other is a collaboration with singers Baek a Yeon and Jaehyun (from NCT). Another seasonal song, called “The Little Match Girl,” but it’s in Korean and puts Wendy’s voice in a different context than Red Velvet.

SM is also simultaneously running a test between Jaehyun and Doyoung as soloists from NCT 127. Jaehyun has gotten two SM Station songs so far versus Doyoung’s one (although Doyoung has been featured in some live stages), so we’ll have to wait and see what comes of this.

The one downside that I can see is that all of the tests attract at least some fans, so you still have a small contingent of NCT stans who wonder about Hansol. I could see this building up into ill will if SM made the wrong decision, but clearly NCT is succeeding reasonably well without Hansol so I doubt it will become a huge problem. I could see this negative feedback being another metric to check your decisions against.

I don’t really know what SM’s intentions are with SM Station, or what the outcome will be.If I can figure out a way to reverse-engineer YouTube views I’ll see if I can put together a predictive post.

In the meantime, I’m determined to learn from SM how to A/B test in real time while also producing quality product that people enjoy. The sheer volume of content that they produce is staggering, and I don’t doubt that it has a direct correlation with why they are so successful.

My favorite song of 2017

Nosedive is possibly my favorite song of 2017.

I’ve fallen asleep listening to it more times than I can remember since it was released last January. It’s soothing, but dynamically interesting, and refreshing.

I love a good over-the-top k-pop music video as much as the next person (probably more than the next person, judging from my college-dude coffee shop neighbor right now), but the simplicity of this video makes it a drink for the soul, not just an entertaining spectacle.

And in this case, knowing the lyrics doesn’t cheapen the experience. This song is like a deep breath at the end of a long, difficult day.

For a long time, I wanna be with those
Who don’t give me a score
Among all the countless ratings
So I can go through the door of a lonely day
So I can live completely as myself

I think we can all identify with that experience, and I would bet that after you watch this video, you’ll want to identify with this old man.

I’m quite gratified that Dynamic Duo x Chen won the MAMA award for best collaboration this year. It gives this song more recognition and I hope that it can help seed a trend for more introspective k-pop.

(Certainly there’s introspective Korean music, but I have not yet started exploring it.)

The performance arrangement is interesting. The beginning of the coda has been changed to an intro, which builds anticipation from those of us who are familiar with the song–when will Chen’s falsetto come in?

The answer is: never.

I’m not sure if this is a brilliant workaround for a note that is probably only achievable in the studio, or if I feel cheated.

Regardless, I’m so happy this was performed live.

An Incomplete List of Things I’m Thankful For

Since it’s that time of year and all.

  • My new job that pays adult money
  • The car that was gifted to me at the perfect time
  • The safety and wellbeing of my family and extended family
  • K-pop
  • The new apartment that I’m beyond excited to start living in
  • The unexpected skincare bonus in the no-makeup foundation I just started using
  • The actual, real bodily healing that has resulted from my carnivore adventures
  • Jesus Christ, the resolver of paradoxes and firstborn from among the dead
  • MY LACK OF PSORIASIS, WHAT (see also: carnivore)
  • The fact that this is my blog and so I am not bound by the AP Stylebook or any other style–I can do what I want
  • How much less stress there is in my life now
  • Smallish regional chain stores that stock the best goods
  • Raw-milk cheese (see also: carnivore)
  • The rad Adidas hoodie that I’m wearing right now that kinda makes me feel like a superathletic medieval princess, courtesy of the employee discount provided by my previous employer
  • YouTube
  • Ears to hear, eyes to see, wisdom to discern
  • And, sleep.

With that, I bid you adieu and goodnight.

Photo editing impacts fashion styling

It’s the power of cropping, folks.

I never realized what I huge difference the crop can make. The potential difference is rather obvious when it comes to composition (at least, for any of us 90s kids who grew up watching the “formatted for your TV” version of so many movies — I still remember that moment when I realized that the VHS version cropped out 30% of each shot!), since the surface area show of a photo directly impacts what parts of its subject are shown.

However, you wouldn’t think that the crop of a photo would mess with the styling impact of its subject.

You would be wrong.

Now, keep in mind that K-pop groups are usually styled for group effect, so that particular tropes and/or colors are balanced among the members. This outfit set was clearly designed for Wendy at the center (for once!!).

Consider this photo of Red Velvet that was posted on allkpop earlier today.

Top: Yeri, Joy, Irene / Bottom: Wendy, boots, Seulgi

Not bad. They look good — no clashing reds — and other than the fact that plaid-clad Wendy is not in the center of the photo, all seems to be well.

Except…Joy’s black boots. They stick out like a sore thumb. Even though they are similar in shape and tone to Joy and Seulgi’s long dark hair, there is something eye-pulling and offputting about those dang boots. They don’t belong in that sea of red.

As a result, the photo seems off balance. This is exacerbated by the fact that the torsos of the girls in the bottom row have been dramatically shortened by the crop, also lending an off-balance feel.

Here’s the original photo:

Much better, right?

Those boots just fade into the background, leaving a naturally-occuring visual hole that would have otherwise been filled by the dark wood of the stops behind the group.

The girls can breathe, the color palette makes sense — the bottle green floor makes a huge difference in offsetting all that red — and the spacing is not overly formal but still balanced.

This is a picture that makes sense.

Let’s talk about NCT 127

NCT 127 released “Limitless” in January 2017. It’s great (although I’m a bit biased — it’s my favorite of their singles). The lyrics are super-inspiring — about pushing yourself and exploring the limits of your talent — and I love when k-pop lyrics bend backwards to focus on their own group instead of singing another version of the generic love song.

The sound mixing on this one is different from a lot of k-pop. It’s dirty, grotty, grimy, built on an unrelenting bass line that creates a layer of underlying noise, which is both transcended by (notably singers Doyoung and Taeil) and mirrored in (Taeyong’s deep rap talent) the vocals to fantastic effect. It’s surprising, ESPECIALLY for a k-pop group out of SM Entertainment.

This comeback came with two music videos, of which the dance performance version is far stronger. The choreography is stellar, and of course the NCT boys perform it flawlessly. Plus, Taeil wears a jacket that looks like a shark.

You really can’t go wrong with sharks.

But apparently something HAS gone wrong in NCT-land, because 127 released a new version of “Limitless” this week and it violates quite a number of conventions.

It’s been over 6 months since the original Limitless comeback, and NCT 127 has gone through an entirely new era of music since then. (Cherry Bomb, for those of you who aren’t stalking them on YouTube like I am.)

The entire concept of NCT 127 was to promote based in Seoul, and this video is in Japanese. In fact, not only are the lyrics changed to Japanese, but the mix is different (bright and futuristic) and an entirely new video has been shot, that keeps the grotty NCT 127 trappings but makes them shinier (and one presumes more friendly to the Japanese market).

Twice has been cleaning up in Japan recently, and I could see SM jumping on that model. NCT 127’s Yuta is from Osaka, and he’s very charismatic in the way that Twice’s Japanese members also are.

NCT 127 is no longer confined to promoting in Seoul. Rather, they’re being sent out farther in Asia to promote. They’ve also been attending fanmeetings in Thailand.

This means that like the defunct concepts of Super Junior (one constantly rotating group of juniors to splinter off new groups each year) and EXO (one group, but two simultaneously-promoting subunits), the NCT concept is also dead. NCT was created to be a group with limitless members, breaking off into subunits based on geographical region and/or other concepts. NCT U was “proof of concept,” showcasing SM’s willingness to experiment with musical styles and their dedication to finding Actual Rappers. NCT 127 was the flagship, promoting in Seoul — but which hasn’t caught fire in Korea yet. (Wake up, Korea, these boys are great.) And then there’s NCT Dream, a SuJu-like group made up of the teenage members of the NCT overgroup.

I suspect that Ten, the Thai member of NCT who so far has only debuted with NCT U, was tapped to be the leader of the NCT-Thai group. SM held auditions in Thailand in Spring/Summer 2016. Nothing has materialized yet. Ten’s behavior in backstage videos (fun, but not necessarily leader material) and his “only” 4 million view SM Station test case, Dream in a Dream, probably put the nail in that coffin.

SM does a lot of A/B testing before they unleash a concept onto the world, and it’s looking like the concept of an ever-expanding worldwide NCT will not happen. Also, NCT stopped introducing themselves with “To the world…” which is sad because it was super endearing.

Anyway, while I’m glad that NCT 127 is sticking around, and I’m glad that SM is putting backing behind them, I’m a little sad to see the weird NCT concept go by the wayside.

In case you had any doubt that the 90s were back

Twice will set you straight with their music video for “Likey.”

Hairstyles aside, the crop tops, chokers, miniskirts, and combat boots echo the 90s pretty dang hard. Plus Nayeon’s sweet plaid dress, and Mina’s spaghetti straps over tee shirt combo.

Not sure how I feel about this music video all told. It’s not as much fun as “Knock Knock” or as random-yet-charming as “TT.” The song isn’t that catchy, but I appreciate that Chaeyoung and Dahyun absolutely slaughter the rap.

Lest things get too literal, an instagram-themed song is definitely of the now.

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