Once again, the Mnet charts are dreadfully boring, and as we come ever closer to Valentine’s Day I fear this will continue to be the case. However, as I’m not in the mood for banal love songs nor interested in the surprising comeback song from Rain (seriously, he’s still making music?), I initially thought I would need to dig deep for this post. You can thank Lady Geek Girl herself for preventing that from happening—or you can thank my laziness, anyway.
Two years ago in July the girl group GLAM—shortened from ‘Girls be Ambitious’—released their first single, Party (XXO) to moderate success. Or at least I’m assuming it was moderately successful, because last year they had a comeback single. Even so, outside of Party, I haven’t heard anything from them or anything about the group at all, which is really a shame. It’s true that they’re a talented group of women, but what’s even more important about them is that in an industry inundated with tradition gender roles when pertaining to romance, GLAM took the bold move to make an entirely LGBTQ+ inclusive song.
Today I had two clear choices when picking a song: G-Dragon’s newest hit to climb the charts, or the recent installment from the steamy, depressing, and gritty duo Troublemaker, staring B2ST’s Hyunseung and 4Minute’s Hyuna. Of course, I had to go with the artist(s) I was more invested in.
As much as I love the idea behind Troublemaker, their newest song Now is kind of boring. Besides, GD and I already have a relationship going on. After slamming GD hard in One of a Kind for being weird in all the wrong ways, how could I resist the chance to rip apart this toned down version in Crooked? Except, damn it, I want to, but I can’t. I love Crooked. I love it so much. Crooked’s the perfect anthem for angry teenagers that think a break-up is the end of the world—in other words, ridiculous. Right up my alley.
Between marathoning Pokémon X and getting excited over Halloween, I’ve been completely ignoring the music charts. To be honest, the way this week’s chart is laid out, maybe I should have ignored it a bit longer. Or at least expanded Generation Avex to include Jpop in addition to Kpop—they get a cool Halloween song! But that day is not today, no matter how much I wish it was. Instead, I have to deal with the slow-paced love songs and abnormally popular break-up songs of the Mnet chart. Though that description is entirely subjective, what’s not is that the charts this week are completely dominated by one songstress: IU. From the songs I’ve listened to, I don’t understand the popularity.
Despite that, for the most part, I do like her song Between the Lips (50 cm). Kind of.
Oh, EXO. I wish you could stop making me feel icky about liking your music.
In a follow-up to their last hit, Wolf, EXO seems to be keeping with the uh… wolf theme in Growl. Outside of how ridiculous that sentence must have been to read—it felt ridiculous to write—the fact that they’re going on with predator themed ‘love’ songs should already be setting off huge warning signs. Warning pyres, if you will. Even if my judgment has been clouded by reading the lyrics first, there’s just something about the entire presentation of this song that just seems rape-y.
Each time I do these reviews I wonder if today will be the day that I’ll finally see the bands and singers I actually know on the top of the charts. That never seems to be the case, however. I was excited to see BEAST up there, but their new song Shadow is so boring that the fact that they weren’t on the top spot came as a relief. Who took the number one spot? Singer/actress Ailee. I had never heard of her before, but after listening to U&I, I don’t think I’ll forget her easily.
I have no idea how I haven’t heard of her until now. It’s not like she just debuted—saving the fact that I don’t think she can debut—and with her voice, I think I would have been drawn to her by some force of nature. Yes, the trend that I hoped would catch with Hi Lee’s rise seemed to be catching. Ailee, much like Hi, has a powerful, soulful voice that gives this otherwise generic break-up song some feeling behind it.
Even though the lyrics to U&I are incredibly generic, I think one of the more interesting aspects of this song is that the faceless significant other isn’t exactly vilified. In fact, in an almost exact contrast to the instrumental and vocals, the story laid out in the lyrics is actually depressing. It’s not a song about someone who has been cheated on or abused, it’s a song about a couple who has simply come apart. One of them wants to keep the relationship going, to try and make it work, while the other (the singer) just wants to move on because it’s hurting them both. And while the song is presented in typical empowered woman that don’t need no man style, lines like:
“We can’t turn things back to how it was before
We became worse than strangers, we became burdens to each other”
lead me to believe that this song has more depth to it than the “I’m so over you” song laying on the surface.
On the other hand, right out of the gate she uses the hated “drop the beat” line—this time taking the form of “cut the beat.” I detest these lines. They’re so unnecessary and rather than getting me hyped for a tempo change, they usually signal the point where the song starts to suck. Hearing this signal at the very beginning of the song really worried me, I’m not going to lie.
Ed Hardy doesn’t belong at the cabaret, come on.
Another thing that I like about this song is that the video actually fits. The majority of the video takes place on a burlesque-style stage, which fits with the trumpets and Ailee’s personality. Think K-pop Chicago. It’s a nice change from Hi, but also an expected change. Ailee has the personality and confidence in her art that she isn’t overshadowed by the flashy clothes and set pieces. Something like this is perfect for her, and perfect for the song.
Pooling all these points together, I’m giving U&I a four out of five diamond-encrusted telephones. As much as I love the lyrics and the music, there’s a disjointedness between the instrumental in the verses and the one in the chorus. It’s like they wanted to go for a more hip-hop style song at first, but then decided on making it more jazzy halfway through. It’s a little disorienting. However, what this song does, it does well, and what it does well is show off Ailee’s vocal talents. I can’t wait to listen to more of her songs. In fact, I might just do that right now.
It never ceases to amaze me that in my time of need I happen upon perfect opportunities just by chance. Today, I have to sincerely thank my beloved K-pop fansister/dongsaeng for today’s article, and what an article it is. Girl pop group Girl’s Day just recently released a song titled Female President that encourages girl power and other such sentiments, a noble goal, especially in an industry so inundated with traditional gender roles. However, there’s much arguing about whether or not this is in fact what Girl’s Day is promoting. I went into this song completely blind, so I’ll allow you, readers, the same kindness.
Honestly, I can see what they were trying to go for, but overall I cannot say that I feel particularly empowered by this song or that the general principle of the song is empowering. The entire message of the song is: girls, if you like a boy, it’s totally cool to kiss him first and take a more dominant role in the relationship. It’s a small step, the idea of breaking free of traditional gender roles in relationships is an important idea to present to the youth listening to this song. But, outside of the lyrics, I don’t believe Girl’s Day does anywhere near a good enough job of reinforcing this thought process. This sentiment has nothing to do with their outfits in the video—which aren’t to my tastes, but they aren’t any big thing—it has to do completely with the way the video is shot.
Most importantly, and most bizarrely, there are no actual males in this video. Trust me, they’re not trying to be progressive in a non-heteronormative front simply because it wouldn’t sell to a wider audience. So for a video that’s trying to promote the idea of taking charge in a relationship, why wouldn’t they have any males for the girls to be taking charge with? I think that the fact that the only “male” in this video is portrayed by a girl reveals the answer all too clearly: despite whatever intentions Girl’s Day had when writing the song, the end product is just another male fantasy. There’s no actual male because 1), it would cause problems for the male fans to see their favorite girls act that way with a real dude, and 2), the video isn’t really about females taking control, but the illusion of taking control.
Does this count as partial queerbating too, or…?
Think of it as a video about one of the many tough girl tropes. This girl likes to be in control, do what she wants, but at the end of the day she’s still fawning over that dude and her strength evaporates because ‘the man’ has finally come into her life. There is no man in the video because it would be difficult to pretend that a guy could still reach the squishy-sweet submissive center of the tough girl if she was acting so dominant towards a real guy. By acting out this power fantasy with another woman, it still leaves it in the realms of fantasy for male viewers.
A bigger problem than that, however, is how the video is shot as a whole. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here, I 110% believe that women should be able to dress however they want. Period. But when the first shot of the video is someone presumably stripping, and re-creating Flashdance behind a screen, it really makes me question the whole “empowerment” thing. Again, there’s nothing wrong with strippers or anything like that, but everything from the camera angles to the dance moves screams “male gaze.” In the end, the video is still made for the men watching it rather than the girls that are supposed to be empowered by it.
Also, for those who didn’t know, South Korea did elect their first female president, Geun-Hye Park, in February of this year. So there is an actual basis for this song. I really do think it’s great that an all-girl band wants to take an amazing event and further empower the female youth of their country to step up and realize that they can be just as powerful as any man. However, I wish that the song could have just been a general ‘girl power’ song rather than being about kissing boys.
If you only listen to the song, I think it’s fine for the most part: the hook is catchy as hell and while the lyrics don’t aspire to any great heights, it’s a start. The video is where it truly begins to fall apart in my eyes, as it seems to become more about the dudes than the ladies.
Well, well, well, look which light of my vocal life finds herself near the top of MNet charts again this week.
You may remember this soulful songstress from another review I did four months ago of her song ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ and I have to say, these months apart have been a good teacher to the young Hi Lee (and also the people that direct her videos). I love that in ‘It’s Over’ it’s more than clear that she’s been encouraged to keep her bluesy vocals and I still believe that they’re the major thing that will separate her from her female vocalist peers. So far, it seems like the Kpop music scene agrees with me. Continue reading →
This is not the song I expected to see at the top of the charts this week.
While it’s hardly contestable that Valentine’s Day in America has become an overblown marketing scam for Hallmark and Hershey’s, its basic significance has not been lost on the rest of the world. From dramas and anime alone (and probably from a culture lesson in Japanese class if you’ve been able to take one) it’s clear that Japan has its own traditions concerning the holiday and it’s largely the same in Korea. The pattern is Valentine’s Day on the fourteenth of February, White Day, a female oriented Valentine’s Day, a month later and, perhaps a Korea-specific holiday, Black Day (bemoaning one’s single-ness) a month after that. So, it’s strange to me to see that, while this kind of holiday is clearly celebrated and holds importance in a romantic sense, during the week of this love-love holiday a song about a break-up shot up five spots on the Mnet chart.
If you would have asked me, I would have sworn that the song that would be at the top of the Mnet charts would be a Christmas song, but that song has been relegated to the number two spot. This week’s number one is something a little different. Something a little more sentimental.
This is my first time hearing something by Seung Gi Lee, charming crooner that he is, and I hate to say it but his voice reminds me of every other Korean male pop singer in every band ever. This isn’t to say that it’s a terrible voice; indeed, it suits the song quite nicely and is pleasant to listen to, but if you played it against other males around his age in the pop scene, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. For a sentimental song like ‘Return’, though, I think the unobtrusive vocals really lend itself to the believability of the song as a whole.
Musically, ‘Return’ is a nice ballad song that sounds as if it could easily be used as an image song for a drama—which makes sense as Seung Gi has stared in a couple dramas and seems to be more actor than musician—or easily inserted in any romantic movie at the point when the heroine is either a) left by male love interest or b) surprised by the return of said male love interest. The usage of the latter option would show that the lyrics were totally ignored, but when have lyrics ever stopped anyone? There’s ultimately nothing new going on here, though, as the piano parts are very simple and swell in the places where you’d expect them to. Yet, I do feel like the simplicity of the instruments also lends itself to the piece: ‘Return’ is first and foremost a song about the memory of love, not the exciting, new feelings that come with love but a somewhat wearied look back on a relationship that was sweet and confusing. Simple. The music reflects that. We all know that feeling, so the music should follow suit and be something we can recognize not in a boring way, but in a nostalgic fashion.
Whereas the music is so perfectly planned, the lyrics have a gorgeous sense of imperfection in them. This ballad, while still about being in love, is not a straight up declaration of eternal longing. The first line sets this up perfectly with:
The mysterious end of that season
I think, did I really love you?
All in all, the song is a bittersweet reminder of that relationship that maybe didn’t work out, but still had an impact on your life. About that person you’ll never forget because they were important but the reality of the world is that you both had to go your separate ways. These feelings can be complicated, and indeed the lyrics present this (although simplified due to the fact that it’s a song) which is why pairing them with the simple melodies of the violin and piano is a perfect compliment.
The video also fits well, being a short about an awkward, bumbling high school romance where thing don’t work out. It’s clear that there are a lot of miscommunications between the two characters, but none of them leave the relationship feeling slighted. They both still appreciate the other one despite having to leave each other at the end. Stylistically, the muted colors and the very slight sepia filter adds to the sense of nostalgia. While, again, it’s nothing new, it’s very well thought-out.
In the end, I can see why they chose to release this song during this season and also why it over took a more holiday-inspired song in popularity: this is the time of the year where people get introspective about what they’ve done in the past year and just the past in general, making promises based on them for the new year. For doing what it set out to accomplish, I give ‘Return’ four out of five piano keys: as much as I like the song, I wanted it to do a little bit more (even though it makes me tear up every damned time). Give a little bit more feeling. However, without a doubt this song will find a home on my iPod and make me cry while I’m driving to visit people in the new year.
When I sit down to watch/listen to a K-pop song, there is a certain mental checklist that I go down, marking off all the tropes and basic expected items that I expect both the video and the song to have. Tropes are easy, they’re comfortable, and it makes comparing them to other songs much simpler since, let’s face it, there’s barely any diversity between artists anymore. Imagine my surprise to find that the song that fills the number one slot on the Mnet Charts (think Billboard) is something so startlingly different in such an obvious way.
From what I can gather, Hi Lee is a finalist of K-Pop Star, something I’m assuming to be like American Idol. So she’s like the equivalent of Kelly Clarkson or, at least, Clay Aiken. Needless to say, there’s a lot of pressure on her to stand out from her peers. However, with a voice like hers I don’t think there was any chance of her blending in. What I think was one of the most brilliant moves was rather than fitting her into the pop-techno thing every other girl band has going on, they allowed her naturally soulful voice to have a song that actually suits it. At this point, it would be presumptuous to say that Lee is the Korean Adele, but if she keeps working on her voice and giving songs like “1, 2, 3, 4” then there’s a very real possibility that she could adapt into that roll. Of course, that’s highly dependent on if that’s what the Korean music market wants to hear. I hope it is.
Many will agree that the song itself is catchy, but there’s unfortunately nothing to offer in the lyrics. As her first single, this may work to her benefit, but I’m still a little disappointed that it’s so simple. It’s a vindictive song, but neither in a way that makes me sympathize with the artist nor in a way that makes me think of her as anything more than a high schooler. …Granted, the girl is only sixteen, so lyrics like this are most likely well suited to her. For now, the fact that she leaves me wanting to hear more is impressive enough, but I hope YG gives her something with more depth to work with later on.
In addition to agreeing about the song, many of the K-pop fans watching Lee will also agree on one thing: she has the stage presence of limp spaghetti. There is nothing about her that makes her pop on the screen, which is especially sad since the backdrop is concrete blocks and other industrial looking scenery. I don’t think the fault is entirely hers in this situation, though. Her wardrobe is almost custom made to have her sink into the background, even more so than her backup dancers. A good example of this is at the 1:37 mark. In a dark blue night-scene, she’s given an off-kilter, almost neon green outfit that blends in while her dancers are given bright pinks and oranges. It’s a really dumb oversight. Like, really dumb. Other than that, Lee will have to learn how to actually get into her dance moves, look more “excited!” than “I just got out of bed and what am I doing here”, and not make strange faces into the camera. This all comes with experience, though.
In the end, I’ll give this song a three out of five: the song is great, and Lee has the workings of a real star, but she has a long way to go. I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on her to see how she progresses.