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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

NOW KPOPPING: Super Junior looks for "MAMACITA" (Ay Ya Ya Ya Ya!)


A part of me desperately wanted to get this "review" (term is used loosely with these hooligans) out there as soon as possible but the music nerd inside of me wanted to actually digest Mamacita - The 7th Album before spewing squeeing nonsense. So I decided to close my lips, shut my tongue, and thoroughly enjoy my boys being back before getting to you all. I hope you forgive me.

Spoiler Alert: Some of this will inevitably viewed as ELF propaganda but listen to me now when I tell you ahead of time -- I'm quite pleased with my boys in Super Junior's latest release. (Shocking, you say?) Also, this will inevitably be a very long post. I promise I tried my hardest to reign myself in. Sigh.

First, a little background for you non-ELF crazies who are still open toward the KPOP genre. Super Junior, my arguable second biggest bias in KPOP, are going on nearly 10 years strong in the industry and are bonafide trailblazers thanks to the scorching success of "Sorry Sorry" back in 2009. At one time, they were 13 members large which was unheard of in Korea at the time. Now, "large and in charge" pop groups of either gender are the relative norm. 

Currently, SuJu has returned to close to possible full strength (given the official exit of now Chinese popstar Han Geng and unofficial exit of youngest member Kibum): leader Leeteuk has returned to the lineup after completing his mandatory two-year military service back in July and Heechul, who exited temporarily following 2010's Mr. Simple - The 5th Album for his own military service, has also returned. The one glaring omission is Yesung -- the group's requisite vocal heavy lifter. While I feared the worst with his absence, I was pleasantly surprised by how the (large gaping) hole left with Yesung out was filled in, but we'll get to that in a few. Comedic Shindong is next on the docket to leave, most likely once promotions for Mamacita wrap up, followed shortly by Sungmin and odds are pointing toward (sob sob sob) my beloved Donghae and his Eunhyuk.

Before I get to the title track and its cracktastic music video accompaniment, let's talk about Mamacita, the album itself.

Top (L to R): Donghae, Kangin, Ryeowook, Eunhyuk, Leeteuk
Bottom (L to R): Sungmin, Kyuhyun, Shindong, Siwon, Heechul
As much as I love Super Junior for their hyper ridiculous personalities, whether in a live concert format or a televised variety show, I hold no allusions regarding their vocal output. There are talented musicians in Super Junior to be sure, but true ELFs should not be naive that the group itself should be more considered entertainers (and damn good ones) rather than goosebump-inducing vocalists (exception: Yesung). With Yesung out doing his duty as a Korean man, much of the vocal lines were obviously handed to the rest of the -KRY ballad sub-vocal line in the group's youngest Kyuhyun & Ryeowook but Donghae also picked up quite a few more lines while a lot of the rapping was spread out from just Eunhyuk (and occasionally Shindong) to gleefully include Heechul. The rest -- Leeteuk, Kangin, Sungmin, Siwon -- are basically there to provide alternate vocal color and to mean mug the hell out the stage (what's up, Siwon). (Although, I will say -- Kangin, Sungmin and even Eunhyuk have really audibly improved quite a bit.)

Despite the fact that Super Junior's vocal abilities are modest, the group often still insists upon a ridiculous amount of ballads on their full albums that would always really bother me. It's not that they shouldn't ever perform ballads. If it's the case of "Sorry Sorry - Answer", the feel is unique and sexy and plays to the members involved strengths. But just tacking on generic ballads to full album sets, when the majority of the vocals are given to Yesung, Ryeowook and Kyuhyun anyway, never made much sense to me. Personally, I don't go to a Super Junior party to hear them sing weepy ballads. Maybe once in awhile ("Marry U", anyone?) but now seven albums on, they should be realizing just where there strengths lie and that was part of my problem with Sexy, Free & Single - The 6th Album

Maybe it was because of Yesung's absence (I hope not), but this problem seems to have remedied itself on Mamacita. All of the cuts are of mid-tempo or quicker with the exception of the gorgeous final cut, ballad "Islands". I call out "Islands" first because it adequately features all of the members involved. While the song itself tells the story of overcoming countless trial and tribulation, most likely in a romantic relationship, the group attributes it toward their strength and connection as a band of friends. "After barely crossing the wave that is this world / I'm getting a little closer to that place that we promised / To you / Closer, closer."

Upon my initial first listen, even cuts that initially felt like they'd be ballads ("This Is Love", "Evanesce", "Raining Spell for Love") happily proved me wrong by employing more walking basslines and more of a faster feel. This overall makes the whole set fly by quicker and feel much more cohesive and this should be applauded.

"Midnight Blues" stands out in particular for its smokey, jazz club kind of feel. It's much more of a sophisticated, adult sound from a group that prides itself on its childish behavior. Love One Direction? "Too Many Beautiful Girls" sounds like a catchy cast-off from their catalog with the lines colored in by Super Junior's gleeful energy. I'm picturing this being performed live during the next Super Show in swim trunks (and nothing else). Make it happen, boys.

"Let's Dance" is a fun disco-lite romp that sounds like it wouldn't be so out of place on a Donghae & Eunhyuk full length. For this reason, I assumed it was Team One Sound like "Oppa Oppa" or "I Wanna Dance" but no! It was actually produced the euro DSIGN Group, who've provided a variety of SMTown smashes in the past ("Rum Pum Pum Pum", "I Got a Boy"). They do tend work more with the JPOP side of SM however, so maybe the connection to "Oppa Oppa" makes sense. (They also tackled "This Is Love", a lovely listen as well).

When KPOP idols come to music shows for their big comeback, they also perform one b-side from the album as well and imagine my utter euphoria when it was announced the b-side for this comeback would be "Shirt" -- a silly, pop romp ("Sugar! Sugar! Hun-eh Huneh!") written by my love Donghae. It's about time the boy got some recognition for his composition contributions! The song is ridiculous but also ridiculously catchy and features all of the guys being pseudo-sexy (some are better at it than others...just saying), fake instrument playing, and a handful (ha!) of pelvic thrusting for good measure. Bless you, Hae. You know exactly what the fans want, don't you.

This brings us to "Mamacita".

"Sorry Sorry" (part 4) it is not. So snaps and claps to SM, Yoo Young-Jin, and the team for attempting to do something different for the guys this time 'round. Perhaps this was thanks to a little help from Teddy Riley, who's been skulking around the SM Studios since Girls Generation's "The Boys". Given "Mamacita" has a "latin" swing to it, Teddy's influence is revealed in the roll of the beat and the inclusion of horns in a less big band-y way that has been Young-Jin's drug of choice lately. The trumpet flares feel less vintage and more sexy -- which is exactly what they were aiming for, I'm sure.

The choreography is fantastic in some places, totally unimaginative during others (smacking your head? really?) but given that we actually got a video that had a plot (we'll use that term loosely again), beggars can't really be choosers. The song is definitely a new spin on the group without going 180 and the chorus is super catchy. A+, in my book.

Now...to the video. If you dislike the crack plot, you must be new here. I for one am jumping up and down that Super Junior are FINALLY being their weirdo selves with this!



I'm replacing my patented, bullet-pointed thoughts (which I realize I haven't done in what feels like a million years...) with the "plot" of the story. If you feel confused by this, just imagine three or four of these being included in literally every Super Junior live show and you'll start to understand the plight of the ELF fandom.

The Full "Plot": Criminal Mastermind Leeteuk breaks out of jail, complete in hat, poncho and spanish guitar. This makes the Town Sheriff (who else but the modelesque Siwon complete with yet another ridiculous moustache) very twitchy, so he goes to get drunk at Heechul's bar. As a totally unrelated, totally random bullfighter (Eunhyuk) shows off in the street to impress women (appropriate choice of role, Hyuk), the "Director of the Bank" Sungmin waddles around with an ornate jeweled crown (um...okay) and hides it basically in plain sight in a carriage in the street FILLED WITH PEOPLE WHO SEE HIM. One such person is Leeteuk who salivates over the prize. Blacksmith Shindong is apparently a corrupt accomplice to this Thief and distracts Sungmin while Leeteuk flails in happiness and goes to take the crown for himself. He runs off and Sungmin angrily tries to go after him -- but is held back by Shindong who knocks him uncouncious with his Blacksmithing mallet (Where's the Sheriff when you need him? Off crying in a corner. Literally. Damnit, Siwon -- focus!). 

Barber Ryeowook sees Shindong's dirty deed, freaks out and screams for help from Siwon who finally comes running (seriously -- Worst. Sheriff. Ever.) With Sungmin still uncouncious, Siwon goes out seeking vengence and Gamblin'/Magician Man (okay?) Kyuhyun sneaks over and apparently steals money from Sungmin's coat pocket (A scheming no-good with no respect for his elders? Again, appropriate choice of casting.) CLIMAX MOMENT: Fruit Seller Kangin, wearing a platinum-blonde wig (presumably a woman's) is entirely too affectionate with the fruit he sells. In his haste to get away, Leeteuk crashes right into him and Kangin's beloved son/watermelon falls to the dirt ground, smashing and smooshing into pieces. Kangin crumples to the ground in utter agony. Someone give this boy an Emmy. That poor, poor Watermelon Baby! SIWON, SERIOUSLY!! CHILDREN ARE DYING HERE! Out for blood, Kangin runs after Leeteuk. 

Meanwhile, Eunhyuk is still dancing in the street as Kyuhyun steals all the female attention by performing random magic tricks (are you lost yet?), and in enters Donghae, The Bounty Hunter. I'm guessing the reason for this choice of role was the pun on his name with "Dog, The Bounty Hunter"? No? Well, otherwise it makes LITERAL NO SENSE that the most child-like member would be the one with the gun to haul in criminals. Oh, Hae, you troll. He's also trying to track Leeteuk, and is clearly unsure of where to go as he's unsurprisingly the worst Bounty Hunter ever. He enlists the help of Eunhyuk (sigh, again unsurprising) to help find Leeteuk. As they discuss their plan of attack, Leeteuk walks RIGHT BY THEM. Way to do your job, Donghae. Clearly, this is the job you were born to do. Not only does he not notice Leeteuk walking by, he STOPS HIM AND ASKS HIM IF HE'S SEEN LEETEUK. (This is the part where Mel realizes this really was the perfect role choice for Donghae. Because he would be that much of a Spacey Stacey.)

Best. Screencap. Ever. You're welcome.
The puzzle piece comes together too late for Hae and Teuk runs off. Kyu appears to be in cohoots with Teuk, too, and does some kind of magic trick that sends all of the women in a stampede (AH, THE BULLFIGHTER REFERENCE MAKES SENSE NOW) toward Donghae & Eunhyuk. Donghae ducks out and after Leeteuk while the women crowd Eunhyuk. Shindong, Kyuhyun and Leeteuk regroup (and yet by this time, Donghae and Siwon still have not done a damn thing to catch them -- beauty over brains, I guess) to clamor over their prize (well, mostly Teuk and Shindong -- Kyu's too busy doing magic tricks to the camera, whoops! Everyday he's shufflin'.). Trying to make a getaway, Shindong again proves his violent tendencies by sneaking up on innocent Ryeowook (WAE!) but Donghae does us a solid and comes out of nowhere, snarling with very intense eyebrow acting (he learned from the best...Siwon). But of course, because he's Donghae, he keeps his eyes on Shindong and Leeteuk sneaks by him. AGAIN. (Head smacks forehead.) In the struggle for the gun (which Donghae enjoys wayyyy too much), the gun temporarily points at poor Ryewook again who flips the *&$% out, screaming and shouting until both Hae & Shindong fall to the ground. He proceeds to assault Shindong's nether region (because this is Super Junior) with his only weapon -- a barber's brush.

With the Shindong threat handled (again, loosely defined term), Siwon appears out of nowhere to try and be of any help to this unfortunate town. He finds Eunhyuk macking on -- wait? -- a white girl?!? -- and asks him for help on Teuk's whereabouts. Unsurprisingly, Hyuk is of 0 help and Siwon pouts like a child (with a gun). Teuk suddenly appears and shoots Siwon. Siwon "dies" a Wild Wild West style death as everyone looks on in shock and agony (except Kyu...because...well, he's Kyu). Heechul steps up to the plate and grabs a gun to shoot Teuk who runs off just as Siwon sits back up, revealing the bullet hit his metal Sheriff's star, which is apparently impenetrable. (Guys, it's a tin-foil star, not a bullet-proof vest...)

Leeteuk runs to Heechul's bar (wait, wasn't Heechul just? But...what?) to cash in on his Crown on his own (if it's Sungmin's crown and he's the head of the bank, shouldn't he be going to the bank?) and Heechul grabs a gun but then GIVES TEUK THE MONEY. He celebrates (as he should -- none of this would happen in real life!) and as he walks out, he's met with the rest of Super Junior who are none to happy with him for a variety of reasons and rationales.

Siwon walks out with a gun to Heechul's head and then -- the twist -- Kyu walks out and hands the crown to Siwon and pulls out a shiny Sheriff's star, too! He pins it on as everyone gapes at him. Wait -- so there are two Sheriffs? If Kyu was undercover, why didn't he book Teuk (that rhymed) before when they were alone? It's clear he did it -- he had the stolen goods with him and just escaped from jail! WHAT THE ACTUAL F*&#^?

Everyone celebrates in the street as Leeteuk, Shindong, and Heechul are tied up to pay for their crimes, and Siwon taunts them with the Crown just out of their reach. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

INTERVIEW/HEAR THIS: Molly Roth Says "Pin Me Up"

It's been a hot second since I've pulled on my cutest Interviewing Mel outfit and gone a little deeper with a new potential popstar...and so I've remedied that via my little chat with Molly Roth

Molly is fresh on to the music scene by way of her first single, "Pin Me Up", a primo pop jam doused with a little bit of retro pastiche. Ms. Roth is a classically trained singer and pianist with a unique, colorful timbre to her strong voice. Many of her available tunage including "Pin Me Up" displays the different characters and shades of her personality with a more complex type lyrical style that is definitely missing from the mainstream. Comparison's to Lady Gaga's more dramatic ballads and mid-tempos would be quite apropos -- indeed "Pin Me Up" sounds like a missing puzzle piece to the Born This Way album.


Like what you hear? "Pin Me Up" is available for purchase on iTunes or for streaming on Spotify. You can also follow her on Twitter via @mollyrothmusic. Her debut EP is slated for release this fall.  

Molly and I talked about her experience in the music industry, what makes her tick in the studio, meeting Lana Del Rey, current artists she is really digging, and of course, which Spice Girls song is her ultimate favorite.

Read on for my exclusive interview with Molly herself...

MEL: Let's jump right in -- Your musical background is full of classic training via the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, Kilburn in the UK, and UC Berkeley. Clearly you're a big believer in being well-versed. Can you describe your educational experiences and how it influenced you as a songwriter, musician, and performer?

MOLLY: I do happen to have a lot of musical training but what I have learned through it all is that your natural ear for music/melody/harmony is the most important thing to being successful as a musical artist. I am just one of those people (or nerds?) who happens to love breaking down music and understanding the theory behind it all. I also love being able to communicate to my band or other musicians not like your typical/standard vocalist. I like being able to use my training when I get stuck in deciding which chord I should change to with a song. I like knowing that I can write and play anything on the piano because my classical training on piano has enhanced my technical abilities. I’m not saying my path is the “right path”. But, it was right for me. I actually never would have attended UC Berkeley but I received a full scholarship, which I guess influenced me enough to go.

In addition to your voice, you also play piano. Do you play on all of your songs? Do you plan any other instruments as well?

Yes, I have played piano on all my songs so far. I can play ukulele as well. 

Like you, I also worked at a record label while in college studying music. What was your
experience at the Universal Music Group like? What did you get to do with them?

My experience with Universal Music Group was awesome…the highlight of my college experience really. I was their lifestyle and marketing representative, which means I basically stood as the liaison between the label and the school. I would attend shows in both the Easy Bay and in San Francisco and write recaps on how the show was perceived, the demographic of the audience, and had opportunities to meet and/or assist the artist backstage after the show. I also held promotional listening parties for UMG’s artists where I was given free CD giveaways and merchandise items to give to attendees and to college radio stations, etc. I was always sporting a Tyga t-shirt with The Weeknd buttons all over my handbag. 

My favorite experience was assisting Lana Del Rey at an Amoeba show and signing in San Francisco. I met her and her band. She was a sweetheart and the band was so cool. I also hung out with Far East Movement….hanging out with artists isn’t part of the job but every time I was at one of the events I would end up chatting with someone who knew the band and the next thing I know, I’d be invited to the after party! I never talked about my own music- I was always very professional when representing Universal- but, I was just genuinely interested in hanging out and I got lucky!

You have a really fun, descriptive lyrical style that really stands apart from a lot of modern pop stars. Do your songs typically stem from real life experiences?

Thanks! Ummm… mostly yes! I like to use metaphors and word-play a lot. I think, “Pin Me Up” is a really fun song but there are a lot of adult topics that are implied. (Ex: “Dirty Shirley’s dancing in the dark”. Also, “Driving down the west coast blazing” isn’t about just driving fast…) These are taken from my real-life experiences. Most of my songs definitely are but there are a few exceptions.

What is the studio process like with you? Do the lyrics come first or do you have a fun groove or hook that you build on?

I write each song entirely at home at my piano. If you listen to the home demo of “Pin Me Up”, it’s completely different. In fact, all my songs sound like musicals before the production aspect kicks in. I usually start with a cool chord progression, which inspires a melody, which sometimes, simultaneously transforms into a lyrical hook that I then base the entire song around. I never go into a songwriting session knowing what will come out. 

A lot of the songs available on your SoundCloud have a decidedly throwback, stripped down vibe. Will this be the main concept for your upcoming release? What inspired you to take this path?

A lot of the older songs I have posted are like pieces from my diary. I love the songs and they have a lot of sentimental value but they aren’t the artist I am today. Don’t get me wrong- my favorite song of mine is one called, “Imaginary Friend”- I wrote it when I was 19. But, I am way more structured now as an artist and I have a very focused path due to my experience working in the music industry. Today, I have a creative team and producer I am working with (Daniel Ford/Dr Ford) and I am excited to debut the new EP. It’s my first “official” release of anything. 

In addition to your vintage flair, do you draw inspiration from any modern day artists? 

Many. Sia, Amy Winehouse, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande are ones many have heard but right now I am really into FKA Twigs and Banks. I also am inspired by a model named, Ophelia Overdose. You should check her out.

Will do! Your first single "Pin Me Up" is described as being based on different elements of your personality. How so?

I love playing characters. I actually use to be a professional faerie, mermaid, and pirate. It’s not that I actually have multi-personalities, but I guess I am some sort of performer of my own world. (I also once took an office job so I could wear a sexy pencil skirt and button-up shirt.) “Pin Me Up” opens with the “dramatic and classic vocalist Molly” at the piano, goes on to be the America’s sweetheart type of girl, becomes the naughty/ misbehaved “Dirty Shirley” (my favorite drink) and then in the bridge it’s all a fun party, we’re dancing, and we’re on a road trip with the top down and bass up! Wow. Should I go into therapy?

Finally, your bio mentions your first dalliance with the music industry was attempting to put together an all-girl pop band inspired by the Spice Girls as a child (amazing!). What's your favorite Spice Girls song? 

Wow. That’s a tough question for me because as a child, each song meant so much to me. I probably loved either “Say You’ll Be There”, “Wannabe”, or “2 Become 1”. 

In closing, any words for your fans out there or for folks just checking out your music for the first time?

Check out my first single, “Pin Me Up” on Spotify, iTunes, and Soundcloud! It’s totally a great summer jam and I hope you enjoy it and get my EP this upcoming Fall!

My thanks to Ms. Molly Roth and the LaFamous team for this opportunity!

Monday, August 25, 2014

NOW KPOPPING: f(x), Super Junior, SHINee's Taemin, EXOpocalypse & More

Mel's first KPOP post in...oh, I dunno...six months? I'm not exactly sure where I should begin. Admittedly, I've been a bit out of the loop and being able to look at KPOP through a further apart glance has suggested the wheels are starting to come off a bit. The genre has been full of flux and drama over the past few months but there is one very important reason why I'm jumping back aboard this crazy bandwagon...

SUPER JUNIOR
The long-awaited return of my second favorite KPOP boy band is incredibly imminent. Super Junior's seventh full length album, backed by the upcoming release of title track "Mamacita" will be firing and hitting next week. Did you get that? Next week. Now hold on to your hats, boys & girls, because the concept is...Cowboys. This could go a myriad of ways and the majority sound dreadful so let's all keep our fingers & toes crossed that this go-'round will be worth it. It's been two years since we've had Super Junior in the saddle (see what I did there?), and three army switcheroos. Heechul, who left during the Mr. Simple era, is back and leader Leeteuk, who left following Sexy Free & Single, is too. However, this leaves us short of the golden-throated Yesung who enlisted just over a year ago. It also quite possible will be the last SJ comeback before my bias Donghae enlists. Ergo, this is important news -- whether the comeback track is terrible or not. Let's hope for not.

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DONGHAE & EUNHYUK
Speaking of Donghae, he alongside his boyfriend best friend Eunhyuk made good on their promises of a full album (in Japan, at least), which was released since we last chatted KPOP. Get this -- it was called Ride Me. Hold for applause. The pair also embarked on their own duet tour in Japan and have released an additional single earlier this month called "Skeleton". The song sounds very Tohoshinki dark and dirty, complete the epic chorus line "I just wanna see you naked" in English falcetto. Is it hot in here? It feels hot in here.


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F(X), SULLI & RED VELVET
A lot has gone down in the f(x) fandom. The group released their latest full length Red Light in early July. The concept: cats. I know what you're thinking but the output was actually quite admirable (and is what gives me hope that "Mamacita" might be salvageable). "Red Light" the song was actually quite Pussycat Dolls sultry (maybe that's where the "cats" idea came from?) and Red Light the album seemed to me to be their most cohesive set yet.


Then, the troubles began. Not long after their comeback, rumors started running rampant and full tilt about a relationship between second youngest member Sulli and Dynamic Duo's ChoiZa -- a tabloid story that has been making the rounds since last summer, the most prevalent being that Sulli is/was pregnant. Both parties in the couple have actually confirmed their relationship earlier this month. If you're wondering why it's a big deal, ChoiZa is 14 years older than Sulli, hence the raised eyebrows. Not long after more "proof" broke about the two, Sulli mysteriously disappeared from all f(x) appearances, adding fuel to the pregnancy rumors, and promotions for the Red Light era seemed to be abandoned. SM Entertainment confirmed Sulli is still very much a member of f(x) and that the group is not disbanding -- however, the circumstances do not look good. To add insult to injury, SM Entertainment have quickly ushered out a new quirky baby girl group to promote by debuting Red Velvet, a four-piece mostly made up of gals from their fledgling SM.Rookies offering. While their debut single "Happiness" has been fairly successful, they hold no interest to me. Best of luck to the girls but...sigh.

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DRAMA WITH EXO, KRIS, BAEKHYUN, TAEYEON AND GIRLS' GENERATION
While we're talking about SM Entertainment's dramas, I guess it's time to talk EXO. The boy band I love to hate (#sorrynotsorry) went through a ton of drama since we last chatted, beginning in May when member Kris (better known as the leader of their Chinese subunit EXO-M and now primarily known by his given name Wu Yifan), abruptly left the group and filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to nullify his contract. Lest we all forget, EXO has been active only for about two and a half years. He has since headed to China to pursue a full time acting career and the result has been a lot of bad blood among the remaining eleven members, not unlike the situation when Jay Park made his exit from 2PM in 2010. Also, Kris has hired the same law firm who represented Han Geng in his similar-ish lawsuit against SM whilst leaving Super Junior, which has inevitably re-opened still fresh wounds within Super Junior. Long story short -- not a good situation.

Not long after this, it was revealed and confirmed by SM Entertainment that EXO-K member Baekhyun is in a relationship with Girls' Generation leader TaeYeon, inevitably a sore subject for many a SONE. The resulting onslaught rained on TaeYeon's Instagram page where she expressed sorrow for not being truthful to her fanbase. The sheer amount of hate and ridicule slung at her truly makes heart hurt. It also lead to a momentary uprising against EXO and Baekhyun in particular. It appears all is calm now for the most part but the days of Girls' Generation's innocence and reign as Korea's National Girl Group may officially be coming to an end. SM also confirmed popular members Tiffany and YoonA were also in relationships, with Nickhyun of the aforementioned 2PM and actor Lee Seunggi, respectively.

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SHINEE's TAEMIN GOES SOLO...ALONGSIDE MY #1 BIAS
A bright shiny beacon in the drama-filled SM Entertainment landscape would inevitably be a member of SHINee. It was announced earlier this month that the group's baby, 4 year old (just kidding...kind of) Taemin would be the first of the group to attempt a solo shot. This is a pretty big deal -- in recent memory, only Henry of Super Junior-M has been allowed clearance to strike out on his own officially. Taemin's solo EP, Ace, was released on August 18th and the title cut (a sexy, slow jam) was written by...my #1 bias, TVXQ!'s Changmin! Surprise, surprise -- it actually was the reason why I forgave the seeming oversight of offering up Taemin over the more charismatic Key or vocally exciting Jonghyun. (But seriously, Minnie -- I'd rather it have been a TVXQ! jam any day. Just saying.)


But to be fair -- I get the hype over Taeminnie. He's grown into handsome boy-man (but that nose to ear chain thing has got to go). We all knew he's had the moves since the beginning, but he has also really grown into his voice and it shows (when its not being vocoded to all hell). The Michael Jackson comparisons are easy for SM to grasp at, so I don't fault them for it. And for those of you who are hurt like me about the Jong snub, my BB co-wrote album cut "Pretty Boy". Also -- Teddy Riley co-produced "Wicked" (which quite possibly could have been a SHINee leftover) and one of my fave under-appreciated producers Adonis Shropshire (who's credits include most infamously Danity Kane, Day26, Dream, and Kristinia DeBarge) co-produced "Play Me", complete with Aaliyah homage.

Joke aside, download Ace right now. It's worth it. I wasn't expecting a mini album of R&B-tingled goodness from SHINee's maknae, but I'm glad its here.

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THE POTENTIAL PHOENIX THAT IS KARA
As I mentioned back in November, girl group KARA, of which I was a casual fan, has undergone a second lineup change -- but their first since really securing popularity. Fan favorite member Nicole and youngest member JiYoung have both officially exited the group and their company, DSP Entertainment, for good. Nicole is working toward a solo debut with a new company while JiYoung confirmed she was leaving the group to focus on her education. Rather than saying die, the remaining three members (Seungyeon, Hara, and leader Gyuri) re-grouped and DSP launched the "reality" program Kara Project to find a new member to join the group, allowing viewers to vote for their favorites out of a possible seven DSP trainees. Almost 20-year old Youngji has been declared winner.

The group released a new single with their new member called "Mamma Mia" and are set to start a new tour in Japan this October. I'm happy to say it's just as catchy, lively, and sexy as their past hits like "STEP", "Lupin", "Mister", etc.



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MORE WONDER GIRLS UNCERTAINTY & YEEUN'S SOLO DEBUT
Not long after I rued the Kara debacle, the youngest original member of the Wonder Girls -- fan favorite Sohee -- also bowed out not just of her group but of her company JYP Entertainment (who has since gone on to have many more problems of their own) to focus on acting over singing. This coupled with leader Sunye's extended absence given her marriage and the birth of her child led to utter uncertainty for the future of the group and its three remaining members -- Yeeun, Lim & Yubin. Back in March, JYP offered a statement saying the group is definitely not disbanding, however any attempt at future plans is quiet.

That is, until this past July, when one of the group's requisite big voices announced her solo debut. Yeeun (or Yenny), performing under the name Ha:tfelt (meaning "heartfelt"), released her album, Me?, in late July. The album should be noted for its decidely un-idol-like feel. All seven of the songs were co-written by Yenny herself. 


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MAMAMOO!
You're probably saying to yourself, "Mel -- the majority of this sounds like bad or sad news. Tell us something happy already!" No worries. Through the sad malaise that is the state of the KPOP world (to me anyway), I may have found a new gal group to root for. 

They're called MAMAMOO and they debuted the day after my birthday, back on June 18th. Signed to "indie" label WA (which is also home to prominent hip hop duo Geeks), this lively four-piece girl group ranges in age from 19 to 23 and their debut single "Mr. Ambiguous" is handclappy and effervescent. Overall, the group has a jazz-y kind of sound that complements the focus being on their vocals foremost (respect). Think Lee Hi meets Secret during their "Poison" era. Fingers crossed for more from these ladies...


Thursday, August 21, 2014

BACK IN THE DAY: #THROWBACKTHURSDAY with Madonna, Alicia & Lisa...

In a valiant attempt to revive my Back In The Day column series, each week or so I will be gathering together a few hits to reminisce on -- the good, the bad, & the downright ugly (but there's no ugly in Guilty Pleasure Land, is there? Yes, Mel, there is...). This week, let's flash back to...

1986 - MADONNA - "Papa Don't Preach"
"Papa, I know you're gonna be upset / 'Cuz I was always your little girl
But you should know by now / I'm not a baby..."

Released as the second single from Madge's third album True Blue, "Papa" became instantly infamous for its taboo subject matter of teenage pregnancy. How she somehow managed to take something as serious as that and make is sound so effervescent, we may never know. Now 28 years after the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, it still sounds ballsy.

Today, of course, Madonna remains the unequivocal Queen of Pop with a thirteenth album currently in the works.


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1994 - LISA LOEB (& NINE STORIES) - "Stay (I Missed You")
"I thought I'd live forever / But now I'm not so sure / You try and tell me that I'm clever / But that won't take me anyhow or anywhere with you..."

You only hear what you want to. "Stay (I Missed You)" is a definitive 90's cut to me and to thousands of my generation who grew up watching Reality Bites and turning the radio on, turning the radio up to hear Lisa Loeb's ardent yearning for a lover to stay. It's now 20 years later (!!) and I still remember all the words unprompted -- and given the lyrical pace, that's an accomplishment. At the time, Lisa had the distinction of being the first true "indie" artist to grace the #1 position on the Hot 100. This feat would only be matched recently via a comical trek to the "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Although largely regarded as a "one hit wonder", Lisa has kept busy since "Stay" releasing quite a few albums, appearing in not one but two reality shows, recording and releasing two albums worth of children's music, and putting the bank behind her iconic eyewear choices by founding her own line of eye glasses.


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2001 - ALICIA KEYS - "Fallin'"
"Sometimes I feel good / At times, I feel used
Lovin' you, darlin' / Makes me so confused..."

Can you believe thirteen years since this little ditty was all over the radio, replayed on MTV, and blaring from every car stereo system? I can't. I vividly remember the Summer of 2001 as it was my last summer before high school (as well as my last pre-September 11th). I was 14 years young and singing along to "Fallin'" on the radio every chance I took. It was Alicia's breakthrough debut single and it sure was a doozy -- aching and oozing with soulful intensity. In a pop music marketplace flooded with saccharine teen pop, the public took to then 20-year-old Alicia like a breath of fresh air. Her debut album, Songs In A Minor, won a record five Grammy's that following February.

Of course, we all know what happened next. "Fallin'" gave birth to a musical superstar known for her emotional delivery and for bangin' on the ivories. She is currently working on her upcoming sixth album set for release late this year/early next and is pregnant with her second child with her hubby, producer Swizz Beatz


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HEAR THIS/MIXTAPE: Femme Faves with Iggy, Jessie J, Kimbra, Hilary, Neon Hitch & More...

Despite my obvious and unabashed love for boy bands, in general my listening habits tend to gravitate toward the female -- in particular, ladies who can flex their vocal muscles and flex them well. Here's a rundown of the ladies I've been listening to the most lately...
Everything about this screams hit, let alone Max Martin's hand in penning it. Released at the end of July, in less than a month its shot up the Billboard Hot 100 (thanks in no small part no doubt to Ms. Grande supplying the second verse). Here's to ladies with enviable vocal chops, right? Even Nicki's verse slings and swats without feeling unnecessarily tacked on for show. It's not quite the "Lady Marmalade" reboot we all have been screaming for but it's a pretty easy guess that anything this girl power-y (and downright melismatic) will have my stamp of approval. 

IGGY AZALEA - "Black Widow (feat. RITA ORA)"
Upon the release of Iggy's debut set The New Classic dropped earlier this year, this tune automatically stood out to me as a keeper -- easily my favorite of the non-single "new" jams featured. Setting aside the bringing to light of Iggy's "questionable" past as a femmcee (my thoughts: she makes jams now and writes them so...) and a now somewhat common complaint that it sounds "too close" Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" (my thoughts: Ms. Perry co-penned "Black Widow" so...I guess you just have good ears). I'd rather field the more obvious -- who exactly is Rita Ora playing to in the US? She's best known here as an ex to the male Kardashian and her vocal contribution here sounds a bit like a Perry/Rihanna rebirth -- a far cry from her best known US hit, "R.I.P." No matter, this one cooks.



KIMBRA - "90's Music"
Welcome back to that other alt-popstar from New Zealand, Kimbra (the other being Lorde, obvs)! Following a pristine bow with her debut set, Vows, and a star-making turn as the featured artist in that Gotye smash "Somebody That I Used To Know", Kimbra dropped her sophomore album The Golden Echo yesterday and it has a handful of late 80's/early 90's synth sparklers that seem to be so en vogue now. Difference is with Kimbra it doesn't sound forced or jumping on a bandwagon -- it really fits and fuels her jazz-y, ethereal voice. "90's Music" is quirky, a little bit weird, and my favorite for the Mary J Blige and TLC homage mentions alone, but I also quite like "Miracle" and "Madhouse".


Hil's return to the music scene surprisingly excited me (What can I say? Dignity was a stellar record and it made me a fan.) until the hype single "Chasing The Sun" dropped. While its sunny ethos is surely A-OK and believable, it did little to augment how thin Hil's natural voice is. Her choice to go the "indie-esque", folky, handclappy route was a head-scratcher for me, given how strong her dancey pop music was but she proved her decision was all for naught with "All About You". It's very call-and-response, sing-along in a way that takes advantage of her everygirl persona. More of this, please.

NEON HITCH - "Yard Sale"
The Gypsy Queen of the Indie Grind has offered quite a bit of fresh material since I saw her perform at CMJ last year in two stellar alt-pop mixtapes (that are both available to stream on Spotify so get on that!). Her latest is the single "Yard Sale", a salty in-your-face Neon-ized version of "Irreplaceable". It reads like an Eff You to an ex who's done you wrong (or, if you want to read into it, perhaps directed at a former label who's done her wrong by "giving away all of the things that [she] used to call [her] own"? "Giving 'em all away for free?" Who knows?). As Neon warbles, "There is a person that could love you/But that person is the old me." Oh, and there's an accordion riff in it. Win.


If 20-year-old Christina's name only sounds slightly familiar, get ready for a potential onslaught. She began her career singing covers on YouTube, which led to a game-changing run on The Voice this past season (she placed third this past May) and a barrage of record deal offers. She ultimately signed with Island Records and her debut major release single, "Must Be Love" hit the decks at the end of July. It's an incredible earworm to say the least, owing to Grimmie's power pipes that could easily compete in this post-Ariana big voiced teenage popstar world. 

Halsey continues into this dark electro pastiche with some seriously noteworthy results. "Ghost" was distributed through AstralWerks, who also handle the catalog of Nervo, Empire of the Sun, Kraftwerk, and Goldfrapp to just name a handful. Halsey has just jumped aboard The Kooks live tour as an opening act. Put her on your list as one to watch.

An "indie" alt-popstar along the likes of Charli XCX and Jessie Ware, Ryn Weaver's entire career blew up overnight thanks both of those ladies giving her some props and promo pointing to her SoundCloud page. Her song, "OctaHate", is distributed through Interscope, along with a new EP that was unleashed yesterday. While there's a bit of controversy regarding her actual "indie" status, it is clear she's Interscope's new viral pet project (not unlike Lana Del Rey) to build a story around her straight out the gate. So far, this does not bug me -- the music is standard pop fare and much more listenable than droll Lana any day.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

PLAYING CATCHUP: Summer 2014 Faves

"Last updated June 28th." This blog is NOT dead, I assure you. Important things are happening to me personally behind the scenes but music has always remained a constant reassurance in my life. Before we get to the latest jams to abuse my Spotify, I would be deeply remiss if I didn't take a few minutes of your time to mention these good un's that June and July have brought our way...

5 SECONDS OF SUMMER - "Amnesia"
This Aussie boyband of the moment makes good with this tune, tipped to be their next quickly devoured single. It was also co-written by the Madden Brothers behind Good Charlotte.

BECKY G - "Shower"
Attempting to break out from under Cher Lloyd's shadow, this 17 year old gives the bratty delivery a rest with her latest single full of thumping 808.

BROODS - "Mother & Father"
Yet another soothing yet driving midtempo jam from this brother-sister duo pair from New Zealand.

PALOMA FAITH - "Only Love Can Hurt Like This"
The British soulstress finally sets this 60's sounding stomper loose on the US. When the chorus opens up a register, it really soars.

FIFTH HARMONY - "Bo$$"
Guilty pleasure alert. This US X-Factor spin-off group takes a total 180, offering a totally different sound from their "Miss Movin' On" debut with this ballsy, jangly jam. Don't hate -- they on they Michelle Obama ishhhh.

DAVID GUETTA - "Lovers On The Sun" (feat. SAM MARTIN)
This super DJ continues his dalliance with Western-influenced sounds with this jam for the OKcorral (& the club), whistles and all.

LEELA JAMES - "Who's Gonna Love You More"
This is the type of jam I've been wanting Mary J to belt out. Leela's vocal delivery really sears. Don't try and tell me modern R&B is dead, fool.

KIESZA - "What Is Love"
A guilty pleasure from Haddaway, slowed down to be a yearning, emotional ballad by a young-gun Canadian who has all the blogs talking for her hit "Hideaway". Covers should only be allowed when they are like this -- a truly unique rebranding of a tune you've already heard, to the point that the versions are totally distinct.

KITTEN - "Like A Stranger"
Dark, dancey synth.

LA ROUX - "Tropical Chancer"
It was one of my faves seeing her live and still one of my faves from the recorded sophomore set. Fun, light, and summery.

LIGHTS - "Up We Go"
A familiar synthy sound from this Canadian electro artist. I love the vocal layering here.

MADDIE & TAE - "Girl In A Country Song"
It's like these two gals took my entire criticism of women in country and put it into a song. Of course I'm all about this! Yeah, baby!

CHRIS MALINCHAK - "Stranger" (feat. MIKKY EKKO)
Dirty 80's disco with serious Michael Jackson influences. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

MAROON 5 - "Maps"
M5 takes a (probably brief) break from the Nile Rogers-esque jangles with this straight-ahead ditty.

JESSE MCCARTNEY - "Punch Drunk Recreation"
Jesse's latest disc, In Technicolor, truly made serious good. This album cut is a little bit sleazy in that way that Justin Timberlake does so well. 

NICO VEGA - "Dance"
Don't sleep on this one! This Cali-based indie rock troupe has opened for an incredible slew of artists from Blondie to Imagine Dragons and their latest disc, Lead to Light, is full of good 'uns including a cover of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and this album cut.

NONONO - "Down Under"
My faves from last year's CMJ Festival recently released their full debut set, We Are Only What We Feel, which includes all the stompers from their debut EP ("Jungle", "Pumpin' Blood", "Like The Wind", "Fire Without A Flame") and also includes "Love" (which they debuted at CMJ, to my knowledge) and this tempo-shifting sparkler, which gives the album its name.

R5 - "Heart Made Up On You"
This pop-rock troupe is mostly made up of siblings that are closely related to the Hough siblings (Derek and Julianne, best known as pro dancers on 'Dancing With The Stars'). This piano-driven midtempo draws parallels to Maroon 5 and that disco-bassline that is so popular these days.

RIXTON - "Wait On Me"
While I enjoyed "Me and My Broken Heart", it was drilled into my head by near constant airplay. "Wait On Me" has a little bit of a fresher sound. To be honest, The Script should be taking notes rather than hanging out with will.i.am and the like.

THE SATURDAYS - "Greatest Hits Megamix"
So much good. I might be crying a little bit.

ED SHEERAN - "Don't"
Easily one of my faves from Ed's sophomore set, X, for is quick, venomous lyrics (reportedly aimed at his ex Ellie Goulding). 

SHEPPARD - "Geronimo"
Hooks don't come faster than with this cut from this Aussie sextet, featuring shades of Mumford & Sons. That chorus gets stuck in my head and won't leave for days. Bombs away!

SAM SMITH - "Stay With Me"
Oh Sam, your voice is just everything. And so is that gospel-esque stacked chorus.

SIA - "Big Girls Cry"
My fave from Sia's latest, 1000 Forms Of Fear.

MEGHAN TRAINOR - "All About That Bass"
Talk about coming out of literal nowhere. This 20 year-old indie singer-songwriter gained major label traction with this super catchy little ditty about body acceptance.

WAKEY!WAKEY - "Wake Up (Lily, I Love You...)"
I don't know much about Wakey!Wakey! other than its frontman used to be on that CW melodrama 'One Tree Hill'. But don't hold that against him -- there's a slew of great slightly folky, pop-rock to be found here. This is my favorite from their latest set, slightly reminiscent of Plain White T's and Owl City.

JESSIE WARE - "Tough Love"
The first listen into Jessie's upcoming sophomore album (also titled Tough Love). The backbeat is slightly reminiscent of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Comparisons don't get better than that.

JODY WATELY - "Nightlife"
This one goes out to all my gays, because I'm gonna get my drag on with this one.

ZENDAYA - "Too Much"
I like Zendaya but feel like she might be trying a little too hard with some of her post-Disney material. This cut is a carry-over soundtrack single from her Disney Channel Original Movie (or DCOM to the kids), Zapped. But if that puts you off, forget I said it. This has more sass and energy, riding high on the Ariana Grande vintage vocal bandwagon.

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