NOW KPOPPING: JongHyun Vs. YongHwa; Sexy Girl Groups

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I last talked KPOP back in October and that was mostly just about my (SM) faves. To some, I know it seems I may have fallen off the KPOP Ledge and back in to the Western World -- and you might be a little bit right. 2014 was a crazy year for KPOP, especially for my favorite artists. The appeal has waned for me because many of the artists I adored were in hiatus or left in limbo. But here I am making a promise to you KPOP-loving readers I will try my hardest to get back on the bandwagon -- and if you have any suggestions of artists to check out, let a girl know.


When the news first broke of SHINee's lead vocal (and my favorite voice of the group) Jong Hyun would be making a stab at the solo market, I was stoked. I was even more stoked when he openly said he didn't intend to go the all ballads route like I initially feared.

His debut solo EP, Base, dropped this past week and...I'm really mad that I'm not into it. It's not that it's bad -- quite the contrary. It just weirds me out that I was more into maknae Taemin's solo offering (Ace) last year than Jong's. I'm glad he's putting out material he clearly is into and the fact that he wrote all of the lyrics to this project isn't something that should be slighted. Jong remains to be a rarity in the nameless idol game and this album takes him one step closer to the longevity in the music business that I know he craves. But when it comes to me -- I just wasn't into it. And that makes me sad. Sigh. But 2015 will bring us a new SHINee record, right? Right?

In terms of what was a surprise was the pitting of another "boy band" member going solo against Jong. CN BLUE, known as a pop/rock idol band with a slightly more serious (read: no choreography) approach to teen pop music, has had handful of great tunes that I've enjoyed ("Hey You", "I'm A Loner") but it was mostly due to me being utterly charmed by Jung Yong Hwa, the group's leader, lead vocalist, and guitarist. Yong was featured on the omnisicent Korean "reality" comedy We Got Married with the baby of Girls' Generation Seohyun and it was there that he really shined in terms of his personality and likability. He offered up a new solo single this week in "Mileage", featuring rapper YDG, and while the song itself is relatively serious and midtempo, the video is really quirky. 

As much as I stan for Jong and my loverholic robotronic SHINee boys, I'm giving this round to YongHwa.



For what seemed like the longest time, girl groups in KPOP were allowed to have one inherent concept: either be cutesy or be sexy. One or the other. No in betweens. And when I say one or the other, it had to be extreme in whichever direction you decided to take.

In 2014, the lines officially began to blur. Sure, we had 2NE1 come in back in 2009 and smash down preconceived notions of who a South Korean girl group could be in the pop world and there were plenty of groups that tried to mimic their success but fast forward to now and you see a variety of fresh girl groups using a handful of familiar ingredients and mixing them together to feel much more real as artists and women than before.

It's not to say that boy bands aren't also guilty of hiding behind generic sex appeal (who do you think you're talking to, here). But when it comes to the girls, its much more black and white -- and I think now Korea is starting to realize that girl groups can be a little more...well, grey.

EXID is a great example. They initially debuted in 2011 and had lots of potential. In 2013, half of the group (literally half!) left the group in favor of joining a fresh gal group called BESTie that is also currently still active. The remaining three members of EXID recruited two new girls and this past summer released the cut "Up & Down" -- a catchy dance song with ballsy rap, sexy choreography and a head-scratcher of a video. The song initially was a total flop but due to the wonder that is social media and viral marketing, it was boosted back up the charts months after it was released. This is definitely not something happens in the KPOP marketplace. Currently, the song is still actively being promoted and recently placed first in on Music Bank.

Being sexy in a video is a no brainer. It's nothing new; nothing we haven't already seen. But blowing and wiggling (vaguely phallic) balloons is pretty freaking ballsy (and hysterical) for the Korean Teen Idol game. There's a difference between an artist owning her sexuality and just using it as click bait.

You can absolutely look at EXID as Survivors in a notoriously shallow Girl Group game and can also compare them to another girl group -- TAHITI -- who recently dropped a brand new song called "Phone Number". On paper, the song is catchy, sexy, and shows off some talented vocals. Its much akin to the doo-wop-pop sound heralded by Meghan Trainor here in the States. But when you take a peek at the video, the appeal of the song gets drowned by the utterly blatant sex appeal offered up -- much of which was identified with EXID's "Up & Down" (the painted on leather pants, the bending-over choreography). 

Sex appeal can be critical but what I like so much about a group like EXID is its just one part of a song they are promoting rather than being the sole marketing strategy. In fact, much of the sexuality in "Up & Down" also lends itself to humor, making the group feel much more human than just sexy girls dressed up to coo and seduce.

My girls in MAMAMOO also have their style down to a science. Their latest, "Piano Man", feels intrinsically sexy without super sexually-charged choreography or barely there outfits. And don't you dare forget the fact that they can really sing -- something that should be commended outright.

Personally, I feel like if an artist can offer up more in a pop song than just a gimmick, I'm here for it. If KPOP falls prey to anything, it's being caught up the machine of constant output that the performer itself is put on a back burner. Maybe 2015 will be the year that KPOP Girl Groups get the memo that you can be a fun, relatable group and put out fun songs -- rather than just carbon-copied "concepts".

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Kelly Clarkson, Ivy Levan, Kerli, MisterWives, Halestorm, Taylor Bueno

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Happy Weekend -- hope you had a great week! I think it's official in that we've really started settling in to 2015. We saw the return of a Superstar with a Capital S (Kelly Clarkson), some great pop albums (Meghan Trainor = Queen), as well as some unexpected primo pop nuggets. Here's some of what I've been spending my time jamming to this week. Click the song titles to hear the songs...

It's not the big Kelly Clarkson sing-a-long smash that we all have been waiting for since her last original single (the underappreciated "People Like Us" from her Greatest Hits collex) but it does the job well enough. It was produced by Greg Kurstin (P!NK, Tegan & Sara, Lily Allen, Kelly's Stronger album) and written by Kara DioGuardi so it can rely on that talent plus Kelly's vocal strength. Something tells me this may just be the "Mr. Know It All" to the "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" hiding around the corner. The upcoming album, Piece by Piece, is looking at a March release.

Orlando-based indie singer-songwriter Taylor Bueno dropped her Unseen EP this week containing singles "I Like" and "Lucky In Love" (which have both gained some support from Radio Disney). It sounds to me a bit like if Carly Rae Jepsen went the Colbie Caillat direction instead of working with RedFoo -- very organic but still very catchy and sweet. 

Getting "hard rock" recommendations from me is a weird kind of thing but in the case of Halestorm, there is a bridge to poppy sheen. Lead vocalist Lzzy Hale is a modern day Pat Benatar (in my opinion) and prior single "I Miss The Misery" alone would have proved it. Then last year, she broke through the Pop Pandora officially when she assisted on the glorious (and underrated) hit "Shatter Me" with Lindsey Stirling. Halestorm, the band, is signed to Atlantic and could be now poised for a mainstream marketing push with their latest, "Apocalyptic", the first single off of the upcoming Into the Wildlife.

The minute I first heard this song -- despite its provocative not-so-double-entrendre -- I was already hooked. So it came as no surprise to me Ivy is a Cherrytree Records signee. Her debut EP, Introducing the Dame, was out in 2013 but "Biscuit" marks her first real run-for-it attempt at radio. Remember when Christina Aguilera was awkwardly singing about her "Woo Hoo" and it was catchy but weird at the same time? Ivy takes the reigns and the fears are eliminated. She has the voice, the confidence, and the kookiness of Lady Gaga that we all dug in her The Fame / The Fame Monster days. I want this (and her) to be huge. C'mon 2015, don't disappoint us. 

Let's hear it for the Hometown Kids -- this NYC-originated pop band have really hit their stride with this hit. The chorus is so much fun and is complemented with horns and disco guitar. 

Today actually marks two years since I saw The Saturdays live at the Highline Ballroom, so it's also two years to the day since I (re-)fell in love with Estonian pop artist Kerli. Since I've seen her last, her should-have-been-huge album Utopia, filled with dance-y bangers, has been left in the rearview since she left Island Records in favor of indie label Ultra. I'm here for new Kerli material in any vein I can take it and "Raindrops" is a fun club dance jam.

JAZMINE SULLIVAN - "If You Dare" / "Stanley"
I was expecting Jazmine's latest album bow, Reality Show (out this past week), to be much more of a traditional R&B affair but what I got instead (happily) was a mixed bag of genres. I enjoy the set a great deal and definitely recommend it to anyone who loves a good sanger. Both "If You Dare" and "Stanley" stand apart to me because of their hand-clappy backbeats that remind of 70's disco (especially the latter). Good stuff

I knew I'd be happy with Meghan's Title album before it dropped this past Tuesday and boy, was I right. In fact, I'm bumming that I didn't try to get tickets to see her live earlier (even if it is at Irving Plaza....side eye) because now seats for her early March show there are at least quadruple their original value! Meghan knows her lane and she does it spectacularly well -- her quirky blend of panache and lyrical snark is all over this record and it all feels so intrinsically Meghan. Add to this that she co-wrote every song and she's even more embraceable. Much of the album reminds me of Little Mix's latest -- they may not all sound like singles but it's definitely all fun pop. However, the fact that "Credit" is relegated to a bonus cut from the Deluxe Version is so criminal. It's a must hear. But for those of you who don't really "get" the Meghan Trainor kitsch, give "Like I'm Gonna Lose You" a listen. It features John Legend(!) and it's gorgeous.

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Tove Lo, Marina & The Diamonds, Madonna, & More...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tomorrow is New Music Tuesday so let's try to cover the holiday ground before even more newness hits the ol' Spotify, shall we? Click the song titles below to watch the video/hear the song.

Because I couldn't not talk about Madonna('s arguably botched comeback). Having a project leak before it's ready is a frustrating reality of the digital age, but there should be no excuses for her sad attempt at a social media campaign with this #RebelHeart business. To be honest, Madonna doesn't need to bend (till she breaks) to current trends. Just put out good material. "Living For Love" is a great dance pop jam -- it'll appeal to the discotheque, it's not inaccessible for Pop Radio, and it doesn't feel like pandering to the #Selfie generation. I don't know how onboard I am with the rest of this project but for what it's worth -- "Living For Love" is fun.

Nicki can get the hell out of here with that "Anaconda" garbage. I like her when she's at her best -- slick with her word play and talking about being a strong female. Much of The Pinkprint went right through me and I'm not really suprised, but this one, featuring a snarky Beyonce, hits all the right notes.

Let me make this clear: I want nothing to do with that Fifty Shades of Grey debacle. Ellie was a bit of an obvious choice for the soundtrack (since she's seemed to do so many) but this song isn't. It's sexy without being over-sexualized and the lyrics paint a story that is both relatable and true to what the (meager) plot of 50 Shades is about -- an innocent women getting involved with an experienced man. To find out it was co-written by Tove Lo and produced by Max Martin just increases the intrigue. Definitely a grower.

Speaking of one of my fave new artists of 2014, "Talking Body" is the latest off Tove's incredible Queen of the Clouds album. Man, can this chick write a hook.

File this under a potential on the Urban format. Produced by The Futuristics, this R&B midtempo employs a not-so-subtle interpolation of Whitney's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and doesn't sound too far away from the one Jeremih song I enjoy, "Don't Tell 'Em" (which samples "Rhythm Is A Dancer"). If you can put the feels of utter sacrilege to bed, it grows on you. 

Something tells me that Marina's upcoming third album, Froot, will be all over the place. "Immortal" is my favorite offering from the project yet despite the fact that Marina Ballads are rarely my thing. 

CHART RACE: Meghan Trainor, Jazmine Sullivan, Ella Henderson, Mark Ronson, Kat Dahlia

Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Year, New Attempts at New Column Contenders. Chart Race will take a peek at what artists are scheduled to release a record this upcoming week -- waxing poetic on anticipation, expectations, and guessing on where they will fall on the general Billboard 200 schematic. So in short, interested to see what new music will be hitting this coming week? Read on...

KAT DAHLIA - My Garden
Pre-Released Jams: 
"Gangsta", "Crazy" (and "Crazy (Remix)" (feat. Gocho))
Expected Bow: Top 20

Kat Dahlia, not to be confused with Kat DeLuna, is one of those buzzy artists that has been making the blog rounds on the periphery of pop since 2012. Billboard named her one to watch two years ago. And yet, none of her singles have shown particularly strong bows chart-wise. Her sound is a bit all over the place which is fun for music nerds but confusing for the mainstream public. "Crazy" is the first single I've heard from her that seems to have any real potential to make in-roads but it definitely hasn't had time to build rapport...yet.

Pre-Released Jams: "Ghost", "Mirror Man", "Hard Work"
Expected Bow: Top 10

This Brit is a former (British) X-Factor finalist back in 2012 and released Chapter One, her debut set, in her native UK this past October. Despite how much I adore the Ryan Tedder-penned single "Ghost", I was surprised she was poised to head Stateside so quickly...but I couldn't be more excited for it. Comparisons to Adele write themselves but to me, she has more younger, popstar potential -- more akin to an (exciting) Leona Lewis.

MARK RONSON - Uptown Special
Pre-Released Jams: "Uptown Funk" (feat. Bruno Mars)
Expected Bow: Top 10

"Uptown Funk" is my jam right now (and has been since it dropped out of the sky a few months back) and no one is more happy to see Taylor Swift outseated at #1 on the Hot 100 than I. I do feel like this set will debut high but will most likely see a steep drop-off rather quickly. I don't feel like there is a huge mainstream demand for a Mark Ronson record -- like David Guetta or Calvin Harris before him, the general public puts more focus on the artist after the featured tag (in this case, Bruno Mars) than the producer behind it. 

Pre-Released Jams: "Mascara", "Dumb" (feat. Meek Mill)
Expected Bow: Top 10

A lot of people like to gripe that the Mainstream R&B market continues to shrink by the day. Jazmine is a soul survivor (get it?) of true R&B and Reality Show marks her first disc in almost five years. The songs that preceded it aren't really comparable to "Bust Your Windows" but her return to the game, both vocal-wise and personality-wise, is certainly welcomed. "Mascara", a pre-release nugget, is a side-eye toward the Material Gimme-Girl who expects everything to be handed to her. If 2013 & 2014 were the Era of the #Selfie & the Kardashian, let's hope 2015 will begin the Era of the Real Female.

Pre-Released Jams: "All About That Bass", "Lips Are Movin'", "Title", "Dear Future Husband"
Expected Bow: Top 3

"Tell me that you're not just about this bass." Truer words could not have been spoken. "All About That Bass" was that breakout hit that no one saw coming (not even Trainor herself). "Bass" still sits pretty in the Hot 100 Top 10 as does "Lips Are Movin'" (aka "Bass (Part 2)"). Her debut EP (also dubbed Title) was surprisingly fab and while I do fear she is running the risk of resigning herself to One-Hit-Wonder status, Meghan is such a welcomed force in today's crew of Female Popstars. Her snark and sass (and her voice) are really unique and fun and I'm really looking forward to the new material on this upcoming Title expansion pack, regardless of her future career trajectory.


Next Week's Horses? Fall Out Boy, Lupe Fiasco, Marilyn Manson, Mikky Ekko, The Decemberists, and Viet Cong.

ON BROADWAY: Mel's Love Affair with 'Into The Woods'

Hey, guys! It's officially 2015! January is typically a slow month in the music business so my goal was to take this time to catch back up and cover the ground I lost over the holidays. You'll notice we have a brand new layout which is still in the process of being tweaked. Let me know in the comments what you think! You also *might* notice we have a brand new topic of discussion on the top nav -- Broadway.

If you follow any of my social accounts (including Instagram -- @melismaticdiva), you might already be aware that I like to take as much of an advantage as possible when it comes to living in New York City. That means going to as many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as possible. Last year, I was privileged enough to see a whole lot, including quite a few that will soon be closing (January-February is a common time for shows to close and make way for new shows to come in). December was particularly meaningful because it marked the return of my other favorite musical of all time -- Into The Woods -- not just to the Broadway stages, but to the silver screen. 

The Best Songs of 2014 (according to Melismatic)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Here it is -- The Big Kahuna. Every blog around this time is putting on proud display their list of what was the "cream of the crop" in 2014. Here are the songs that I felt most deserve a spot on your music player of choice. Please note the ranking is pretty arbitrary. Basically, these 100 tunes are good 'uns.

The Best Albums of 2014 (according to Melismatic)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Before we get to songs (which is a whole other animal to be quite honest), let's chat about the must have albums released this year. The stipulations for this list are thusly: any LP or EP that was released in 2014 that had more than five original songs on it. Each eligible album is given a percentage by yours truly based on total number of original songs (remixes or alternate song takes are not included) divided by number of songs I actively enjoy and was impressed by. It goes without saying this list is my own opinion, kthanks.

The order may surprise you...

A YEAR IN REVIEW: 2014's 'Live From New York'

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It can't be just me who feels like this year flew by, right? I did something crazy this year and actually put together a 'Best Of' list. You might be thinking -- that's insane! Melismatic never does 'Best Of's' (anymore).  Nope, that changes now. You're welcome in advance.

Before we get to that, let's take a look back at all of the fantastic shows I was lucky enough to see this year...not including the superb Broadway shows that are 'Matilda', 'Once', 'Newsies', 'Hedwig & the Angry Inch', 'Beautiful: the Carole King Musical', 'Motown', 'Side Show' and the soon to be included 'Into The Woods'. 

Forty-One (decent,  huh?)

BEAUTY BREAK: Getting Pretty'd Up for the Holidays with One Direction Makeup

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nope, you did not read that title incorrectly. Are you ready to get glam this holiday season with
Harry, Zayn, Niall, Louis, & Liam?

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