Friday, November 18, 2011

NOW KPOPPING: Two Girl Groups and a Fandom OTP

My KPOP obsession needs no real introduction...let's get right to what's abusing my iPod the most...

BROWN EYED GIRLS - "Sixth Sense"
Saccharine sweet, super Autotuned synthpop not your thing? Not to worry folks. The foursome in Brown Eyed Girls have had an amazing year with the release of their fourth Korean album, Sixth Sense, which I've been meaning to write about for literally ages. BEG is a quartet that has sincere vocals, a distinct (and fierce) personality, and vivid creativity that radiates throughout their entire project. 

They gained relevance in the KPOP world with their 2009 single "Abracadabra", but while it's a killer song for the club, it hardly did them any favors in terms of being taken seriously as a tangible artist with direction (despite the video being quite intense -- so much so it was banned from several channels in Korea for its suggested sexual and violent content). In the time that followed, group leader Narsha released a solo EP (which spawned the incredible and jarringly haunting single "Bbi Ri Bba Bba"), and baby Ga-In did too, after appearing alongside 2AM's JoKwon in the frighteningly adorable Korean "reality" sitcom We Got Married. Ga-In's release, Step 2/4, hinted at BEG's future sound with a genre tagging dubbed "electric tango", displayed in lead single "Irreversible"

BEG returned as a four-piece unit in late September 2011, first with hype single in "Hot Shot" (which also featured a decisive latin bend to it), and then with the sucker punch that is "Sixth Sense" -- a melting pot of sex appeal, sweeping instrumentals, soaring vocals and meow!'s set to 1970's-esque disco rhythms. If ABBA was releasing something in Korea in 2011, it might sound something like this. Yes, I went there. Sixth Sense is only eight tracks long (and two of them are interludes), but its tight as a drum. The group recently returned to the scene via Sixth Sense's inevitable "repackage" single in ballad "Cleansing Cream". It's another gorgeous piece, truly highlighting how vocally capable these girls are. It's hard for me to pick what I love best about this era, but if you need a place to start, "Sixth Sense" the song is it.

The five chicks in Wonder Girls, JYP's requisite flagship group, are often touted as one of the most influential girl groups in South Korea's Idol Market. Much of their reign is thanks to the juggarnaut that was their 2008 hit "Nobody", whose English complement later went on to be the first song by a Korean artist to chart the US Hot 100. While I quite liked "Nobody" for its almost novelty, "retro" feel, both in its visuals and in its Motown-inspired sound, the majority of the Wonder Girls material fell on deaf ears to me. The group contains very talented, capable and likeable members, but the material just wasn't sparking immediate attention to me.

The group has recently returned to South Korea after a long time spent away (the majority of the time in the United States attempting to firestart their English careers with mixed results depending on who you talk to) via their second full-length Korean album release, Wonder World. The group's main single, "Be My Baby", doesn't do the project much justice (although I dig the dance routine), as I tend to find myself skipping that cut and heading directly to their updated version of Shin Jung-Hyeon's "The Beauty" via "Me, In" (featuring a rap written by the group's husky voiced rapper Yubin). The song makes good use of sing-along nah nah nah nah nah nahs, dark smoky synth and lots of crunchy electric guitar, playing on the group's vocal strengths and trademark sass/sexiness. This is the type of KPOP song I'd want in English over "Nobody" any day. Take notes, JYP. This is one "cover" done superb.

SUPER JUNIOR (Eunhyuk/Donghae) - "I Wanna Love You"
And of course, the requisite nod to a boy band. "I Wanna Love You" is a non-album track that was first presented to eager fangirls via Super Junior's third official tour of Asia (aptly titled Super Show 3) last year. The song, only then available to your ears if you saw it performed live in person (or through YouTube fancams), featured one of Super Junior's main pairings within it's then 10-active membered lineup -- the one I'm most partial to. That of course is the coupling of the group's lead dancer Eunhyuk and the personal favorite of yours truly Donghae. The two are very close friends in real life, often leading to fans "shipping" them (kind of like: I'll never get to meet him/marry him, so he should just be with this guy rather than some inevitable skank who won't appreciate him like I do). It's all very difficult to explain, but that's not really what's at center stage for now. The song's recorded version finally landed in our hands via Super Junior's Super Show 3 live album recording released in late October.

"I Wanna Love You" is a sexy, 90's R&B-influenced slow jam that was co-written by Eunhyuk and my other husband Donghae themselves in collaboration with producer Chance of KPOP (non-idol) R&B/hip hop group One Way. It's not their first collaboration, as they also worked together on the also-Donghae-penned album cut "Y" from SuJu's most recent album release, Mr. Simple. Chance is proving himself as a who's who in terms of the Up-and-Coming Producer category, and I hope his fortunes continue to rise -- his bias toward soulful R&B is really refreshing, especially in a market like this.

The song basically reads as a male version of "The Boy Is Mine". The first verse is sung by Eunhyuk (surprisingly, as he rarely sings solo and is more of the group's go-to rapper), and the second is sung by Donghae -- both verses read like a love letter toward the same girl. Their paths cross in the semi-English bridge as they seize each other up and essentially fight over who is better for said Girl In Question.  The song was performed live with a female dancer, but honestly -- who was watching her? The main hook is also in English, the warbling of "I wanna love you/I can't live without you/.../I wanna have you/I really need you". Cue thousands of ELF-biased fangirls imaging this was written about them (or rather, that Eunhae (their "couple name", like Brangelina), as they are often affectionately referred to, singing it to each other). 

Bias aside, because I mean, let's be serious -- on paper, it's kind of impossible for me not to like this -- the song is pretty decent, albeit a bit cliqued. A lot of Donghae's compositions kind of come off this way to me, mostly because the boy is a sucker for romance, and is that really so bad? My main complaint is the use (although subtle) of Autotune. Neither of these men are Super Junior's power singers (hellooooo, Yesung!) but they aren't expected to be. Within Super Junior, they are in the 'showmen' category, so I felt the use of Autotune seemed a little gratutious, as it didn't so much fill-in their voices but at times drowned them out to sound more than a little robotic. And I don't know about you, but robots kind of kill the mood (unless they are of the Simon Curtis variety, of course). Still, it's a fun attempt. There is no music video for this song, but below is a fan-made video using various fancams from Super Show 3 set to the recorded version of the cut. Be prepared for drool to line your keyboard. It's kind of like they wrote the song purposely to tease their fans (well, duh).

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