PLAYING CATCHUP: THE 'NOW KPOPPING' EDITION


Since my mini-hiatus, so much has happened in my KPOP genre. A slew of boy bands debuted (joy!). SHINee has already powered down the iWatson and put "Sherlock" to bed.  Super Junior's Kangin returned from the military (hopefully just in time to take part in the group's upcoming sixth album). A sixth album releaase in Korean from TVXQ! (HoMin) is set for the end of the year. JYJ's Junsu is releasing a solo record. I'm dizzy. Literally dizzy.

While I wait for my faves to make their respective comebacks (looking at you 2VXQ!, Junsu, SuJu, 2NE1!), here's what has been blaring on the ol' iPod from the electrowizzlers in South Korea. Be Prepared, it's a lot of new faces (to Melismatic the blog, anyway)...


Click the cut to read what I think about 4Minute, SISTAR, NU'EST, TaeTiSeo, EXO-K and -M (yes, I know, finally) and Nine Muses.

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4MINUTE - "Volume Up"
Turn up this music/Everybody time to rock!/Take it all away and/Pump up the volume (up, up!)/Don't wanna hear it/Pump up the volume (up, up!)/I will change more as time goes by and get stronger



Korea's version of the Pussycat Dolls, the salacious 4minute, known for their killer sleeze party anthems ("Hot Issue", "Muzik", "Huh", "I My Me Mine", "Mirror Mirror") return with their fourth official EP, titled Volume Up. While their last EP left me mostly cold ("Heart To Heart"? Really?), "Volume Up" is a return to form, complete with a suprising use of saxophone throughout (think more along the lines of Alexandra Stan's "Mr. Saxobeaet" or Gaga's "Hair"). While I always champion the battlecry that the members who aren't HyunA get so little notice (::cough::ridiculous::cough::), if you're going to pity anyone, it's the babes that make up supposed 4minute sub-unit Double Yoon (JiYoon and GaYoon), as they do the main vocal heavy lifting to make this song unique and sonically interesting. In fact, HyunA has come unto a lot of fire recently for not only allegedly lipsynching her part during live performances, but not even being bothered to open her mouth during her solo "rap talking" bits. It's for inconsistencies like these that I'm tepid to shout to the world I'm a 4Minute fan, but based on the catchiness of the singles, "Volume Up" ranks right up there with their previous hits.

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SISTAR - "Alone"
Are we over this easily?/Why am I eating alone again?/Watching movies alone/Singing alone/I cry and cry/You'regone/Regrets are useless/I'm alone again today



Brave Brothers (think the RedOne of Korea in terms of formulaic-ness...kind of) are the ones who brought SISTAR, a group I tended to put in the 'non-important' category ("Push Push" anyone?), save for the epic pipes of hottie Hyorin. However, as time has gone on and brought us to their latest mini album release, the other three members are starting to pull their own weight as the group detaches itself from its uber cutesy image via "Alone". The song itself is a triumph for Brave Brothers because it really is a breath of fresh air into a growing tired production style. "Alone" really cooks and plays around with a falcetto style that is hard to pull off without sounding pinched or strained. The result is a very cool, dark, aloof sparkler, and easily my favorite thing SISTAR has ever done.

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NU'EST - "Face"
The bursting out -- jackpot!/No matter what anyone says -- so what!/This is the difference between me and you/The bursting out -- jackpot!/Til we finish, we can't stop/You always find out that it hurts after it shatters/That's why you are where you are



The boys of 'New Established Style and Tempo' (say that three times fast), aka NU'EST are arguably my favorite of the new slew of boy bands infiltrating KPOP. Brought to us by Pledis Entertainment (home of After School/Orange Caramel), their debut single "FACE," an in your face exclamation of I'm here, I'm badass, Get Used to It! is a true expression of boy bands in 2012, complete with a dubsteppy dance breakdown. While their choreography may need some work, the chorus is as singable as it comes complete with English anchors ("Teojyeo naoeun jackpot!/Nuga mwora geon so what!), which makes up for the kind of laughable English rap at the end (Don't lag Wil E. Coyote/I'm Road Runner, fast!...what?). The biggest pitfall? All of them are just 16 years young, except for their leader, who is 18. Don't you feel old now?

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TAETISEO (Girls' Generation) - "Twinkle" {listen here}
I twinkle even when hidden, what can be done?/I stand out completely/Even when shrouded in a veil/I twinkle, it's obvious

Holy. Cow. Rumours of a Girls' Generation first official subunit first started forming a few weeks back by way of a possible ballad formation featuring leader TaeYeon, American-born Tiffany and American-raised Jessica. Yawn, I thought. But rumors were unfounded and in a good way, when TaeTiSeo was confirmed to featured TaeYeon, Tiffany and the group's baby and lead vocalist Seohyun (the name uses the first syllables of each girl's name...in case you don't have eyes). So as the group recharges after last year's The Boys, and has solo activities in dramas and Korean television shows (goooo HyoYeon on Dancing With the Stars!), TaeTiSeo will be dropped their debut EP on the back of single "Twinkle". When they said influenced by Stevie Wonder, I held my breath for fear of laughter but folks -- they aren't joking. "Twinkle" is so funky and jammable, I don't know where to begin. Speaking as a non-Crazy-SONE, this is the Girls' Generation we should push to America. Still confident and strut-worthy. Still strong. Still danceable. Still catchy as hell. But it has ease, it has swing, and it shows that Girls' Generation (or at least these three) can really, really sing. You hear that haters? Your move.

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EXO-K/EXO-M - "MAMA"
Wouldn't we communicate?/Wouldn't we love?/Tearing up reality that hurts me/Say MAMA if you can change it/Say MAMA


Let's address the elephant in the room, shall we? The main complaint most folks have with SM Entertainment's latest unleashing of EXO(PLANET)-K and -M respectively is it all feels too familiar or its too much, too soon, etc. Is it, Mel, you ask? It absolutely is. At face value, "MAMA" is all strings, operaic arrangements, crisp dance moves and epic feels, very reminiscent of SM Entertainment's best. But as the first single, it's a lot to take in and it's a lot to ask of a rookie group without the inevitable crash and burn.

SM has "teased" us about their supposed 'super trainees' for what feels like eons, as we first heard rumblings of this group in early 2011 when they were then known as M1 and M2 (with the supposed inclusion of Jino of SM.The Ballad, remember him?) -- another mega group idea (see Super Junior, Girls' Generation) but split in half from the start to attack the Korean and Mandarin pop markets at the same time. The name was changed to EXO late last year, complete with a complicated and far too serious "back story" to match, and 85 million "teaser" videos were releasesd to the pubic (mostly featuring main dancer of EXO-K, Kai, to many haters amusement).



"History" saw light in early March, and I found myself kind of excited, as it was singable boy pop that wouldn't be too much of a stranger on a SHINee album. Then along came the official single in "MAMA" and the world stood perplexed. "MAMA" is yet another cunning example that SM often uses recycling to their advantage. It's not a criticism, its just the mentality of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" certainly applies to SM Entertainment's breathren, and you either like it or you don't. Obviously, since my main male KPOP biases are all SM (TVXQ! past and present, Super Junior, SHINee), "MAMA" should slide right into that pocket of adoration and while it took some getting used to at first, it is fun. It's heavily "influenced" by what worked in the past by the boys' hyung sunbaenims ("TRI-ANGLE", "Don't Don", "Keep Your Head Down" and "Superman" come to mind) mixed with a very Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" arrangement. It's very starkly unique in sound to what all the other groups are doing, so for that you have to praise them.



My main beef is it's a lot to swallow for their fist bow. TVXQ! were "HUG" and "My Little Princess" adorable before they were badass epic in "TRI-ANGLE". Super Junior cheesed it up with "Miracle" ("Life couldn't get better, HEY!") and "U" before amping it up to "Don't Don". But when you begin with "MAMA", where do you go? You can't pull a "Hello" after a "Lucifer" without being a "Replay (Noona Is So Pretty)" first, right? Apparently, SM doesn't think so, but EXO is the first to break their pattern. While I'm digging the more straight-ahead "History" to the grandiose, down-right seriouso "MAMA" for the time being, I can't really dismiss either track for being not entertaining. Only time will tell. This is a lot of momentum to uphold. A lot. So good luck boys. You're gonna need it.

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NINE MUSES - "Ticket"
One Way, One Way, One Way Ticket//My heart has gone a long way to you//Again my heart has gone to you tonight//



While this single is pretty damn old by KPOP standards (it was released in early March -- the group has continued its perpetual revolving door lineup by adding a new member since then and are already working on a follow up track/EP), it's an earworm by every definiton of the word by using a magic formula used so well in KPOP: vocal repetition. The chorus basically features three words -- One, Way and Ticket -- all in English, repeated over and over. Much like "Gee", "Chu", "Sorry Sorry" before it, it digs into your ears and won't leave forth anything, especially since the repetition is in singable English. One way, One way, One way Ticket!

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