Week 4 is here, and while Mel is busy recovering from halloween (I've already sent her some DBSK videos, don't worry), we're busy getting down to business. And by business we mean this week's panel. We're back to the "regular" 6 songs this week, with new releases from MBLAQ, 4Minute, Rainbow, Co-Ed School, 2AM and SNSD. Let's not beat around the bush - shall we?
This week's panel features permanent panelists:
Nikki @ Pop Reviews Now
Mel @ Melismatic
McRoth @ McRoth's Residence
And special guest:
J Mensah @ J. Mensah's Billboard Files
MBLAQ - Running Running
This is part of the sound track for their "evil master dude" Rain's hit-then-massive-flop prime time drama "The Fugitive" and may I say, it's played a hell of a lot of times in the drama. I've watched 2 episodes so far, and I swear I've heard it in the background more than 5 times.)
J Mensah (3/5): I can’t say I’m a fan of this, but it’s not bad—I quite like how it slightly re-calls Madonna and Justin Timberlake’s “4 Minutes” with the clock ticking and progressive electronic and drum beats and speaking of re-calls, the verses do sound like the ones on Timbaland and Nelly Furtado’s “Morning After Dark,” but everything else sounds underwhelming, including its bleak chorus and the hovering drum beats and electronic undertones which do run dry halfway through the song. The action-packed video is pretty awesome though.
McRoth (3.8/5): My interest for this group comes and goes. While their past singles haven't moved me to hysterical fan-demonium, I think I like this song. The verses fly right past me, but once the hook and chorus hit their stride, I'm all in. The melodies are fantastic. As a unit, though, MBLAQ are vocally one of the weakest singers in Kpop. But for what it is, they pulled it off enough to make this song sound good.
Mel (2.9/5): I like the video gamey-backbeat. Admittedly, I spent more time staring at Rain than listening. (Nikki – is the drama really that bad? Hmmm…) I find most of the song relatively forgettable but I guess that’s a step up for MBLAQ, as the majority of their previous material made me want to turn it off almost immediately. Kudos for the falcetto (insight into who that is?), but if MBLAQ ever decides to put out something without autotune I will become the Queen of France. Or something. The song is too generic for my liking, and doesn’t have anything particularly sticky about it besides the backbeat. It's just kind of there.
Nikki (2.8/5): Can I say it? OK I'll say it. eeeeeew it's MBLAQ. I didn't really like them to start with (BEAST were always better), but when they did that emotionless, sappy version of my beloved DBSK's brilliance that is "Mirotic", things just got nasty. This song has absolutely no life, whatever semblance of it they're trying to show is obviously contrived, and it shows. The melody is pretty, if a band like say SHINee or 2PM did it, it would sound decent, borderline good, but it isn't. I understand that they might wanna be all "gangster" or "maangas" in Filipino (Google Translate it.), but in their attempt at being cool, they end up trying too hard. Way too hard - the song just goes on and on and on aaaaaaand on, and it's not the song's fault, it's theirs.
Co-Ed School - I Love You A Thousand Times
OK, so last week Co-Ed didn't fare so well with us, but like a day after we finalized the song list, this was released. And when I say it's nothing like "Too Late", I mean it's absolutely nothing like it. It's a ballad, for one, then I'll just let everyone guess what else is different. ;D
J Mensah (4.5/5): A dazzling piano-laced ballad—emotional melody-driven production, heavy orchestration and strings with an awesome soaring climatic chorus and warming vocals to boot. I like this a lot—I’m sure if I could understand what they were saying I would be touched even more. This would be right at home on my iPod—I could get use to some soaring Korean balladry.
McRoth (3.9/5): I remember Tweeting my approval of this song when it was first released. Coming from last week's disaster to this is like listening to an entirely different group. While this ballad isn't anything special, it displays the group's talent, which I had decided was nonexistent. And to an extent, that's still true, since not everyone is singing, at least not as much as I would like them to. The male voices appeal to me more than the females, for some reason, so I wish they sang more. Overall, I'm not a fan of this group and they could still bring a lot more dynamics to their singing (I mean, there's a shit load of them, do something interesting!), but this song is gold. Lay off the auto-tune, and you could potentially slay an entire section of the mediocre Kpop idols out there. Fingers crossed!
Mel (3/5): Um…who died? I guess it's the "old" Co-Ed School (if you can call three seconds ago old). Once I got that off my chest, I’ve always said I’m more into dancey songs period, no matter what country it’s from. This is no different. However, I like that they are actually putting some passion into their vocals and a few of them – especially the girls – are really incredible vocalists. Who knew? Why couldn’t this talent be channeled into their debut? It’s not the type of thing I’d like to listen to often, but in particular, the blonde girl has an incredibly striking presence here. It kills me that too often, you have to be Autotuned and hip or Epic and talented, and not a mixture of all four. Oh well, at least their showing they are worthy of all the hype.
Nikki (4.2/5): This was the ballad I was talking about last week when we featured "Too Late" and I'm not all over the song, but considering that their other 2 singles were autotuned like crazy (in the cheap way), this ballad is more than welcome. May I say though, I agree with McRoth - the guys can sing. The girls are good too (better than a handful of other girl group "singers"), but the guys made me stop and listen, why they didn't get more lines on this is beyond me. I've realize something, Core Contents (their agency) only knows how to do 2 types of songs - fantastic ballads sung by fantastic voices, or these cheap, autotuned, annoying uptempos. Between the two, I'd take the ballads any day.
Rainbow - Mach
Ahh yes, DSP's 7-member girl group. With SS501 (once DBSK's biggest rivals) no longer under them and Kara in Japan, Rainbow are the only major DSP act in Korea, and they're not that major. Yet, I hope. Promotions for "Mach" (pronounced "Maha" on the song, and written like that in Korean) just started last week, but in true DSP fashion, there is still no music video out for this.
J Mensah (4/5): Cool modern, give or take, retro disco-influenced number. Sounds like a nice slice of upbeat Korean-pop, also sounds like a very invigorating layered pop-studded production—very bass heavy, bursts of electronic guitars here and there, I particularly like the blusterous horns over the rap-verse towards the middle. I also like how the James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” sample is worked in there too, I’m not sure if its translated or not but it’s sounds very cool.
McRoth (2.5/5): Uh, no. This song is Boring, with a capital B. There's not much technique happening in the vocals and the instrumental does nothing to drag this song out of the muddy sea of zzz's it's drowning in. And THAT's all I have to say. What? When a song delivers dead air, what do you expect me to do?!
Mel (2.8/5): I shall dub this one subtley hypnotic. I don’t know too much about Rainbow, but I like they skirted the super auto-tuned with demanding beats route since it seems like everyone’s doing that at the moment. It’s catchy to a point but I’m not exactly jumping up and down. The vocals aren’t shabby but I wish there was no shouting and I was able to differentiate their vocals more. Too much of it sounds too melodic, like a group all-sing rather than harmonious. Basically, to summarize, I'm going to completely forget about this in about 10 minutes. I'm sorry.
Nikki (3.8/5): Would you believe me up I said I liked this? Well, I kinda like parts of it. Right now you know Rainbow are at that "confused" stage. The song is all over the place - there are interesting points then it gets boring all of a sudden, the structure isn't very well-defined, there are only like 3-4 girls singing (they sound decent on the recording, but crap live), the rap part sounds out of place and their vocals sound like Kara - but I see potential in this. The chorus, if later executed well without that Kara-vocal treatment (which has really ruined a lot of potential kpop staples like "Lupin"), is actually rather strong. It's gorgeous but can have kick plus that little bit of playfulness, if done right.
4Minute - First
Like a lot of Korean girl groups, 4Minute are taking a stab at Japan - this is their first original Japanese single. What an apt title. ;D And it was just reported a few days back that Gayoon (lead vocals, she was in the G20 thing we reviewed last week) injured her ankle - they're just about to start promo. FANTASTIC.
J Mensah (4/5): Striking dancefloor filler, overhauled with dizzying bassy electronic fronts. It’s sounding a bit old fashioned dance-pop, but it works. It’s not the catchiest piece of dance-pop ever, but it’s cool—it sounds like its reigning in the edgy electro-pop of Girls Aloud and fluffy cute hooks of the Cheetah Girls (a comparison that might make them cringe, I know). I like brief piano play out too—is that part of the track? As striking as the track is—with all the suggestive lyrics (“You can be my first boy/my only first boy”), suggestive breast-touching, and pelvis thrusting routines, they probably are trying to sell a nice wallop of sex to the Japanese audience –which every modern pitch-corrected, auto-tuned girl-group should. It’s the way forward—how else are you going to get their attention? By singing? No, Sex!
McRoth (3.9/5): Gawd almighty, someone send Hyun Ah to the middle of the Sahara Desert already! I can't stand her talking in 4Minute's songs. I mean, I already dislike 4Minute's music, but Hyun Ah just exacerbates my disdain. Yeah, sue me. It's not my fault they make messy music with absolutely zero emotion involved. But let's move on before I really start dissing these girls. This song is definitely their more tolerable singles. It's still over shouted and exaggerated beyond belief, but at least they've made it melodic enough to avoid sounding too annoying the first five replays. There's a lot of evidence that a couple of these member can actually hold their own, but they really need to drop the auto-tune, like, yesterday.
Mel (4.1/5): I know I’m relatively alone in the 4Minute fan camp on this panel, but someone needs to appreciate them for what they are – a fun guilty pleasure group. In no way is this as fun as “Hot Issue”, “Muzik” or “Huh” before it, but its on its way. The chorus is hooky, which is alright because the rest kind of…isn’t. I dig the crunchy synths and their style is back on point (except for those nasty red extensions and those random schoolgirl outfits). They are still a poor man’s 2NE1 in terms of fierocity, but they are coming in a close second in the pop-trashy race. I like that 4minute is really going their thing in Japan in terms of releasing fresh songs in Japanese rather than just recycled Korean hits translated. When you hear one of their songs, you are beginning to guess its them from second one -- they are developing their own sound now and starting to step away from the other girl group's shadow. I am starting to see McRoth’s point in terms of how sexualized their concepts can be, but perhaps my home country has tainted me, because until I see too much skin or worse, I can’t really hate on them. Go on with your bad selves girls. Just perhaps, leave the big hats and bows to Gaga, mmmkay?
Nikki (3.8/5): "First" is standard 4Minute, with the proprietary autotune, scream-y chorus and arrangement and of course, a lot of rapping, "You're mah forst!!!" Not the biggest fan of this, but I gotta hand it to the girls for sounding like "4Minute singing in Japanese" and not completely changing their sound just because they're in a new country. To me, if they do succeed with songs and a sound like this, they'll be worthy, because the music transcended, and that's the whole point.
2AM - You Wouldn't Answer My Calls
I bet Mel's jumping in her seat now - new 2AM album! Yayyyy! So 2AM are 2PM's other half - both groups were made from the JYP project group "One Day". (AM, PM - get it? yeah) While 2PM are meant to be the "performance band", 2AM are the "guys who can actually sing" band - they focus on mostly ballads, but can squeeze in the odd uptempo/dance routine every once in a while. This is the new single (one of 2, actually) and they just started promo this week.
J Mensah (4/5): Cute piano melody. I wish I had enough knowledge of Korean pop to make a proper comparison, but since Co-Ed School is the only other ballad in this bunch, I'll say it's in the same vein as that but backed with guitars with a more contemporary spin. It sounds good, although with its dramatic video—would it be too much to ask for the song to have had a more climatic ending? It seems to end before things can get that more emotionally fuelled—you know, that last bit in every emotionally-driven ballad that tug at your heartstrings—the same way it looks like somethings tugging at the heartstrings of the dude crying like a boob-depreived baby at the end of the video there.
McRoth (3.6/5): I'll be honest, I have yet to touch 2AM's new album. I don't know why, but I haven't the will to sit and listen to these guys right now. They're great singers! I'm just not ready to give their new material the light of day. Sorry! Anyway, this song is alright. It's a pretty ballad, but it doesn't have much of a wow factor. I can hear it quickly getting lost in the ginormous field of Korean ballads. And their use of the strings doesn't work for me. It's the generic wishy-washy sappy orchestration used and reused in Kpop. I need my strings to develop and unfold with much more grace than I hear in this song. On the up side, 2AM's vocals are right on the money.
Mel (4.5/5): Well, wasn’t that just terribly epic in every way? I had to watch it a few times to truly understand the gravity. As I’ve stated before, I’m not usually into ballads but 2AM is the major (and usually the main) exception – considering their bread and butter is ballads. Speaking from a vocal standpoint – this song is simply gorgeous and the music video only adds the depth to an already tragic ballad. True, perhaps they should have chosen an professional actor to take lead over (the adorably infuriating) Seolong, but you could tell he was really giving his all and my heart went out to him by the end. Am I as psyched about it as I was about “I Did Wrong”? Well, no. But I hope some epic dance mixes come out of their big epic ballads, and then you’d have the best of both words. The song is gorgeous. There’s nothing else to say. It's just too damn beautiful.
Nikki (4/5): I like 2AM. They can sing. ALL of them can. It's just that sometimes the whole ballad thing gets boring. Let me repeat for the gazillionth time that just because someone can sing, doesn't mean he/she should sing ballads forever - the measure of ability is not how many high notes you can hit in a second and how high they are, it's just not. But anyway, this is what we have so I guess we have to make do with it. I actually kinda like "You Wouldn't Answer My Calls", but after listening to this for a few hours I kinda got sick of it. However the song just soars, and they don't have to hit you over the head for you to realize that they can do better than sing well. Not to mention the addition of a drop-dead gorgeous string section in the background just doing it's thing. Gorgeous.
SNSD/Girls' Generation - Hoot
The girls just made history in Japan for being the first Korean girl group to enter the Oricon singles chart at #2 with the Japanese version of "Gee". Yup, "Gee". They're back in Korea, with a James Bond-esque "concept" and a new mini-album/single in the form of "Hoot" (the mini-album/EP's came out this week).
J Mensah (2/5): I like the James Bond theme they’ve got going on this track, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. It sounds boring—chorus doesn’t stick and the verses just go right through me. It’s a far cry from “Boyfriend,” now that was some good Korean pop—That would be my highest rated of the pack if it was featured, but Nikki tells me it wasn't even a single (what a waste!). Sorry sexy Korean girls.
McRoth (3.2/5): Hoot is the kind of song I usually compare to someone walking in a circle - Instead of it progressing in a certain direction, it travels, but goes absolutely nowhere. Meaning this entire song is flat, boring, and uninspiring. Fans may be wetting their pants in ode to SNSD's comeback, but to hell with all the crazies. SM has definitely lost their grip this year and when SNSD fails to impress, you know they've given up. Or at least lost their touch. The song does have a couple glimpses of excitement, though. Like when the middle eight rolls in...but sadly, it dashes right on outta there too fast for me to savor. Also, and no offense, but Sunny needs to stop singing like a duck. I do not enjoy listening to her smack her way through her lines like a 1 year old. All in all, there's nothing here for me to rave about.
Mel (4.2/5): RE: Their vintage concept idea -> At first I was not into it at all, but the more I look at the teasers, the more I kind of dig it. It reeks of Wonder Girls’ Motown throwback feel, and it looks a little too much like the girls playing dress up than truly pulling it off, but it works for the song's stylized production. I’m not really a SNSD convert, but I don’t have anything against them. “Genie” was fabtastic in a very good way no matter any way you slice it, and I doubted they could follow that up, but “Hoot”, no matter how much my gut tells me to pick on it, is just relentless when it comes to hooks. I found myself humming along after the second chorus. Oh dear, SM – you are truly a masochistic beast when it comes to earworms. Even when I don’t want to like it, I do. Only time will tell how much of a staple it will become, but...::sigh::
Nikki (3.8/5): Ahhh yes, "Hoot". (have I told you that I got my first hater comment for my review on this the other day?) I don't know if it's just because I really like the song or if my standards have kinda gone down since I entered kpop, but this isn't half-bad. I mean the chorus is catching without bombarding you with fancy shmancy effects, the verses are decent, and the production is so SM. By that I mean it's great. But then again, Sunny sounds horrid (When she really doesn't sound that bad in real life. I mean she was crap when she did that duet with Jaejoong, but it's never been this bad!), Hyoyeon is so damn annoying during the middle 8, this sounds like an SNSD-ized "2 Different Tears", there's nothing especially jaw-dropping about the song, and after a while you get bored of it. I think my standards have really gone down. Oh well, it was good for the first few listens, at least.
Aaaaaaaaaaaand the winner is... *insert canned drumroll*
With a score of 16.1
So, are there any objections? Complaints? Spazzing sessions you want us to join in on? Leave everything in the comments section, and don't forget to vote for your favorite this week on the poll to your left.