Music, Reviews

[59/365] A Review: B.A.P’s ROSE

I mentioned a while back that B.A.P was making another comeback before kicking off their world tour, and it was released early this month: a three-song single album featuring title track WAKE ME UP, DYSTOPIA, and DIAMOND 4 YA.

ROSE is distinct from their previous singles by having all three songs be in completely different styles – rock for DYSTOPIA, their signature hard-hitting hip hop made melodic with WAKE ME UP, and the NOIR-esque DIAMOND 4 YA. I don’t think any of their previous single releases were this diverse in the tracklist, so it was somewhat a surprise when I listened to the album for the first time – especially considering it was 8am in the morning and I was listening to it discreetly in class during a three-hour lecture.

The first song in the album, DYSTOPIA, was what really caught me off guard, with its 2000s heavy rock sound reminiscent of early era Linkin Park; almost like Bang  X2 2.0, even. Definitely did not feel like an idol song. I would’ve mistaken them for a rock band if I didn’t know better. It’s structured as a traditional rock song with scratching elements, which is unusual for a K-pop group, and you can tell they’re not used to the genre by how some of the high notes are definitely out of place. Honestly speaking, it’s a novel offering by B.A.P and it’s outstanding precisely because it’s by a K-pop group, but for a rock song, it’s nothing special. Rather generic, even. Nothing about it particularly stands out, but it’s an alright song that could definitely work as an anime opening theme. That’s just the vibe I get from it.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t even seen the MV. I tend to not watch any of their MVs anymore given how overdramatic their more serious MVs can be – I still can’t watch SKYDIVE without cringing, and people were raving about how awesome that MV was! – so I can’t say much about it, but aurally WAKE ME UP is a somewhat catchy and cohesive effort marred by haywire rap in both the first and second rap verses. There was something off with the pacing and length of the rap verses in relation to the rest of the song that made them feel a little jarring to listen to, which is a shame because other than that WAKE ME UP is actually a good song. It’s redeemed somewhat by the bridge rap and a repetition in the chorus that works well thanks to the vocal line, and Bang Yongguk’s using his 4:44am voice in his verse, which is always a plus. It’s good to have him back. Overall, WAKE ME UP highlights the vocal line’s strengths and while the rap could have been more finely tuned, it’s a quality effort for a title track.

The final song, DIAMOND 4 YA, is a haunting jazzy track that carries on from their previous full-length album, NOIR. The rap verse here is better than in WAKE ME UP, although Bang Yongguk’s not using his 4:44am voice anymore, and there’s a definite improvement in Zelo’s verse compared to WAKE ME UP. Structurally, it seems to ride on the same emotional hype as the title track, building up to a climax by the final chorus. There’s an air of fragile ethereality (or ethereal fragility) with the high notes and chimes amidst the blaring brass and steady bass, which gives the song its unique edge. Daehyun once mentioned that the group had a hard time picking between WAKE ME UP and DIAMOND 4 YA for their title track, which is fair because both of them are equally on par with each other – DIAMOND 4 YA is more cohesive overall, while WAKE ME UP is the kind of catchy, classic B.A.P the fans would definitely love.

Either way, ROSE is a promising release hampered down by what I suspect to be rushed production and not enough quality control. I think TS Entertainment was pushing for the album to be released on time before the world tour, and hence the quality suffered greatly. Given more time, I’m sure they could have polished the songs more. As it is, I will forever curse TS Entertainment for their shitty management and mourn for what could have been a truly outstanding single album.

Buy ROSE on iTunes


The following aren’t necessarily reviews per se so you’re welcome to click away to another post if my being angry about how TS Entertainment isn’t treating B.A.P right isn’t your kind of thing.

These last two releases seem to be bad omens for B.A.P: with NOIR, Bang Yongguk had to sit out from promotions because of a panic disorder, and with ROSE, Himchan had to sit out from promotions because he’d cracked a rib. Himchan cracked a rib. That’s not normal. TS Entertainment stated that he’d cracked his rib from stress due to the strain from the practice in preparation for their comeback and also sudden weight loss, which by the way, is also not fucking normal. Losing weight so suddenly to the point of cracking a rib? There’s a fucking limit to how much idols have to starve themselves to look good for their fans, and it’s the job of the fucking management to make sure they don’t push themselves too far!

Also, who in their fucking right mind would have their idols perform on comeback stages two weeks before embarking on a fucking world tour? Especially when they just came back from a Japan tour before that? It’s fucking insane!

And a while back there were also reports that TS Entertainment wasn’t fucking paying their staff, citing money problems as an excuse for late payments and not compensating overtime work. How fucking shitty can you get? First they work B.A.P to the bone to the point where the group actually had to go for a fucking lawsuit, and then when the dust settled they ruined B.A.P by shitty promotions and working them to the bone again – to the point where Bang Yongguk and Himchan both can’t perform because of medical issues – and now they’re not even paying their staff? Whoever’s in charge of TS Entertainment is a piece of shit and I hope they rot in hell.

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B.A.P had so much fucking potential. So much.

I’m just legitimately upset by this. They deserve so much, all the members have so much potential and now it’s all gone to waste because their fucking company couldn’t get their fucking act together. That part where one commenter said they should’ve been on the same level as BTS now? It’s true. That’s how much fucking potential they had. I’ve been with them since they debuted. They were well on their way to the top, they were head to head with EXO, they could be head to head with BTS now, but then the lawsuit/hiatus happened and they might as well have disappeared off the face of the earth. I’ll say it as many times as I have to, anybody who thinks the lawsuit didn’t hurt B.A.P can eat dirt. I’ll drag them through the mud with my own hands. The hiatus ruined B.A.P. It ruined all they could have been.

And maybe I would’ve been disappointed if B.A.P eventually ended up having to disband. It would be preferable for them to go the Highlight route and split from TS Entertainment to do their own thing, but that takes a lot of money and with Bang Yongguk and Himchan nearing the age for enlistment, it’s not viable. Maybe I would’ve been disappointed if the worst came to pass, but I’d be okay because at least they’d be alright and they’d be free to pursue other avenues, but we’re now at a point where not only the members’ careers are in jeopardy, but also their goddamn health. Granted, the idol business isn’t exactly the most forgiving industry, but there’s something to be said when two subsequent comebacks result in serious health issues for the members. Bang Yongguk couldn’t perform on stage due to anxiety. That Yongguk, who’s been performing longer than he’s been a member of B.A.P. Himchan has a cracked rib from sudden weight loss and stress from strenuous practice. Himchan, who’s constantly told that he’s too fat and needs to lose weight, and does so by simply not eating altogether. How is this okay? How is any of this okay?

At this point it’s like TS Entertainment doesn’t even care if the members suddenly drop dead on stage from the stress as long as they’re still doing the world tour and making them money.

Honestly. Fuck TS Entertainment.

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Music, Reviews

[58/365] A Review: Code Kunst’s MUGGLES’ MANSION

Code Kunst is a producer under YG Entertainment’s HIGHGRND sublabel, aimed towards indie and alternative musicians. HIGHGRND is headed by Epik High’s Tablo, who I’m personally a huge fan of; I follow him on SNS and caught him hyping up the album and the track he’s featured on with G.Soul, so I figured I’d give it a listen to.

I have never fallen in love with an album more quickly than I did with MUGGLES’ MANSION.

This entire album oozes chill vibes, the kind of smooth, laidback hip hop that you can just put on and enjoy on a good day. Artistic (Intro) sets the pace for the rest of the album, with each track seamlessly segueing into the next. The second half of 향수 (Feat. 넉살) really stood out to me the first time I heard it, the repetition of the lyrics somehow giving it a harder edge. It sort of had me jolting out of a reverie brought about by the chill beats, which was an interesting thing to do in an album – especially when it goes straight back to the chill beats with THIS IS (Feat. C Jamm).

Then came Fire Water (Interlude) followed by FIRE WATER (Feat. G.Soul, TABLO) and boy was that a pleasure to listen to.

G.Soul’s voice is smooth (like butter) and paired wonderfully with Tablo’s skilled rapping and Code Kunst’s smoother beats. This track had me melting, I tell you.

StrOngerrr (Feat. 로꼬, MINO) was a pleasant surprise since I quite like Mino, it’s a shame he doesn’t get to be in the spotlight more in his own right – even in this song he’s in the chorus and not the main verses. MORE FIRE is another instrumental track that seems to serve as a bridge between the first and second half of the album – they’re both laidback, but the latter seems to carry a different kind of energy compared to the former, starting with Born from the Blue (Feat. JUSTHIS). This song gave me a strong Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann OST vibe for some reason, which is a good thing since the soundtrack for that anime is phenomenal.

The three rappers on Cruz (Feat. Loopy, PUNCHNELLO, Ugly Duck) have distinctly different styles which meshed together well on this track, which makes it interesting to listen to. X (Feat. 이하이) is one of the more higher-tempo songs in this album, going with the theme of a woman who’s decided she’s had enough and deserves better and is off to find a new man. I was honestly surprised by this song since I’ve never heard Lee Hi sing before, and this kind of sultry strong voice reminiscent of Kitti B was not what I’d expected from her, but I like it.

PARACHUTE (Feat. 오혁, Dok2) is one of my absolute top three favourites from this album, along with Beside Me (Feat. BewhY, YDG, Suran) and Lounge (Feat. 화지); they’re the real highlights, in my opinion. I have a thing for vocalists like Oh Hyuk and Suran; Suran featured on Agust D’s mixtape and the track Winter Bird she released last winter was beautiful, but the sultry jazzy style she sang with in Beside Me really blew me away. Unlike Lee Hi, it was completely unexpected precisely because I’ve heard Suran sing before, and that kind of voice from Suran totally hit me out of the blue. Lounge served as a good end to the overall theme, a relaxed beat that ties up the album nicely.

The final two songs don’t seem to fit in with the overall theme of the album: White AnxiEty (Outro) (Feat. Colde of offonoff) is more offonoff than Code Kunst, with its minimalist instrumentals and Colde’s almost ethereal vocals, while Don’t shoot me MAMA (Feat. Car, the garden) similarly highlighted Car, the garden’s style rather than Code Kunst’s, especially with the acoustic guitar strumming that’s glaringly absent from the rest of the album. It could be some form of promotion for offonoff and Car, the garden, since from what I can gather offonoff is signed under HIGHGRND but still very much under the radar, and Car, the garden is as independent as they come. It would explain how both songs seemingly don’t match the tone of the album per se, but they’re good songs nevertheless.

The best thing about MUGGLES’ MANSION is that the featured artists all mesh well each other. Each of them shine on their respective tracks, with the rappers all equally standing out in their verses. I don’t know if he chooses the artists he wants to work with himself or the label recommends them to him, but either way they all fit his tracks so well, I’m honestly rendered almost emotional by how effortlessly smooth this whole album was. Listening to it for the first time was a real experience, I’d say.

10/10 would recommend, an absolute experience, am definitely a fan of him now.

Buy MUGGLES’ MANSION on iTunes

Thoughts

[43/365] Back Home

Bangtan is dropping You Never Walk Alone in another half an hour so I thought I’d better get today’s post out of the way first. I’m back in the university now – goddamn the cafeteria food is still spicy as all hell – and after cleaning around a bit, it feels more like home than my old room at the house ever did. I’ve always been more partial to staying out on my own, being independent and all that jazz. I think by the time I’ve got a stable career and my own roof over my head, I probably wouldn’t be going home very often. When I lived in Cambridge, I never called my parents. I never initiated the Skype call – it was always my mum, and on the days when I was too busy or my laptop wasn’t signed in to Skype she’d sent me dozens of emails asking if I was okay, why wasn’t I picking up, what’s wrong with me. Coming home to see thirteen-odd missed calls on Skype used to make me really anxious and I hated it. Probably contributed to my breakdown too.

Nowadays I don’t call except to let them know if I was coming home on weekends. I think once I start working and living my own, I probably won’t call much at all. Probably once every month or something. It’s sad and it makes me feel like a shitty person who doesn’t give a damn about her own family, but I’ve always been the kind of person who doesn’t need much human interaction to survive. Do I get lonely? Yeah, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve gotten used to people not paying me any mind and going about my business by my own lonesome, so sometimes it surprises me that someone actually cares about my well-being and whereabouts.

That’s the bare truth of it, I suppose. I’m not used to people caring about me. People never have, so when some do now, I don’t know how to react favourably to it. In turn, I’m unable to properly show people that I care about them too. I’m far from the most caring person in the room, but there are a handful of people that I genuinely look out for, and letting them know that I care about them is hard. I never know how to do that, because I learn from example, and I’ve never had people show me that they cared.

I’m broken in a way, but that’s fine. I was never a fan of perfection anyhow.

Anyway! On to more pleasant things. Bangtan is dropping a new music video for their title track and also the new album, which is something I’m super excited for because Not Today sounded like a fabulous banger and I am psyched to hear it. Also: Outro: Wings full version? Fuck yeah.

Also I only got to listen to Ed Sheeran’s new song from his upcoming album and wow, I like it a lot. I didn’t like the previous album much because the departure from x‘s sound was too big for me – that small-time, heartfelt Irish feel was gone and was replaced by this mainstream mediocrity, and I wasn’t a big fan. Shape Of You was very reminiscent of debut-era Sheeran, and I’m much looking forward to the new album that’s slated for release next month.

There seems to be a lot of interesting things coming this month and the next, not least Sheeran’s new album and B.A.P’s FROM NOIR, which I’m guessing is a repackaged version of NOIR. There’s a lot of talk about how TS Entertainment is fucking over B.A.P again, what with the non-stop activities and another world tour in the works after they’d just finished their Japan tour earlier this month (and a massive world tour just last year), and with no updates on Bang Yongguk’s health, fans are understandably upset. Hell, I’m upset.

It’s a mess. I’ll probably write a post about this whole issue once there’s more information about the world tour and an official statement from TS Entertainment and also B.A.P, but at the moment there’s only the resentment of the fans to go by and that’s not a very reliable source of information. It’s always a good idea to look at things from both perspectives, and unfortunately at the moment there’s only one.

Til next time.

Music, Reviews

[22/365] A Review: Don’t Make Me Cry by Jessi

Jessi, my babe, my best girl, has finally made her comeback! I’ve loved her ever since I heard her sing – like legit sing and not rapping – and I’ve been looking forward to a comeback for ages. She’s probably right up there with John Park in terms of Favourite Solo Artist, I figure – I’ve always had a thing for jazz singers, apparently. Heh.

She featured in Dumbfoundead’s KBB a while back and IATFB from AsianJunkie has covered that, so I won’t. This time it’s all about Don’t Make Me Cry.

Jessi, no matter how much she plays that gangsta lady persona, is more suited to jazz lounges than the streets. Thankfully Don’t Make Me Cry plays to her strengths, with its slow-tempo beats that match her soulful singing. The second chorus onwards is replete with guitar riffs reminscent of The Spine from the soundtrack for the game Transistor, further emphasizing the ‘jazz singer’ parallel. Jessi is no broken-hearted lady wandering the city seeking vengeance for her lover’s death, but Don’t Make Me Cry is a story of a woman who won’t let herself be hurt again, no matter how much it hurt to turn her back on the memories they once had and cherished, and it’s no less important than Red’s story.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this slow jazz-lounge style, but it’s definitely mine – as you can probably tell – and Jessi’s voice is definitely not wasted here. The song is nicely paced, the instrumentals are simple but effective, and overall it’s an A+ offering from Jessi.

The MV, however, I have a few irks with.

First of all, who the hell orders red wine at a bar? A bar. Not a wine bar because we ain’t classy enough for that, just a regular old pub that probably does live shows every Saturday night – and our douchebag orders wine. It’s weird and I’m not buying it.

Second, our douchebag, well… no offense to his face, but his entire being screams douchebag. Like if I were a bouncer at that pub and I see him flirting with Jessi, I’d be warning her to stay the fuck away from him because that boy is Grade-A fuckboy material. Girl, you’re just asking to be hurt.

Other than that, it’s a clear-cut story – our douchebag meets Jessi at the pub she bartends at, they date and fall in love, he does her wrong, they break up in a symbolic gesture of smashed wine glasses, he comes to the pub weeks later to woo her back, Jessi says no, and he walks out of her life forever. But wait! In the final scene, he sets down the wineglass gently on the bar – a peaceful end to their relationship, one where hopefully they can both move on from. Yay for symbolism! It’s nothing special, but I get to see and hear Jessi’s fantastic voice again so I can sit through her (bad) acting and obvious wineglass symbolisms.

It’s a welcome return for Jessi, and here’s hoping 2017 will be a wonderful year for her musical endeavours.

Still not over the guitar riffs in this song, honestly.

Feature

[11/365] K-pop, Where Not Everything Is As It Seems Pt. I

Thought it’s a shame to leave this topic hanging when I’ve specially made an intro for it a few days back, so here I am with today’s topic: K-pop, and the machinations that make up your favourite idol groups.

The thing with K-pop fans is that they’re most often too focused on their idols, they don’t stop to consider how the industry works. And the Korean entertainment scene is an industry – a huge one, at that. Like all industries there are marketing strategies and economics involved; it’s where money changes hands and image becomes a hot sellable commodity. There’s no denying there’s talent and hard work put in by the idols themselves, but for the most part we can’t deny there’s plain old economics involved too.

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God bless xkcd, honestly

If anything, the management part of the industry is what’s worth paying attention to. oniontaker, for all the drama that surround him courtesy of salty fans and crazy folk, is a surprisingly accurate source of information. He’s not an informer, just someone who’s well intimated with the industry, and folks like him are worth paying attention to because he knows what’s what. He’s worked with some of the bigger names in the industry; hell if I’m not reading it wrong he’s also a key part of it. Who would you rather believe, an anonymous nobody or an anonymous somebody who’s consistently proven that he’s got the connections to back up his claims? Yeah, I’d go for oniontaker too.

I mentioned oniontaker because if you were to go through his posts that aren’t about dating gossip or rumours, he actually tackles them with the business part of the industry taken into consideration. What would profit the company? How would the company cover their losses? Is it really true Minzy leaving 2NE1 changes nothing for YG Entertainment? He looks at it from the business point of view, and that’s fascinating to be honest. He’s prime proof that the Korean entertainment industry is, above all, a goddamn industry – it’s ultimate purpose is to generate a huge-ass income and I think fans would do well to remember that.

There’s a fine line between, say, supporting your idols and being blind to the industry machinations. Did you know, for example, that most entertainment companies pay variety shows to have their idols featuring on it? It’s not your favourite idols giving up their precious rest time to help struggling variety shows become more popular – it’s your idols doing their job, putting themselves out there to promote themselves. It’s part of the reason why fans hate TS Entertainment so much, because they won’t let B.A.P take part in variety shows; it does seem to be getting better lately, with One Fine Day and the members have since been appearing in variety shows over the past year, but with the whole lawsuit issue and hiatus, it’s hard to say if a few measly variety shows are going to be helping B.A.P get back their spotlight.

That’s another thing fans don’t consider – not all companies treat their artists fairly. B.A.P put up a fight and went on a hiatus, severely hurting their popularity in the mean time – don’t try to lie to yourself, the hiatus helped no one. They went on hiatus in 2014 and during that time EXO and Bangtan surged up the popularity ranks in their absence. The hiatus hurt them a lot, and it was all because TS Entertainment wouldn’t pay them fairly. We don’t hear about these cases a lot, mostly because the artists don’t usually try to fight back – B.A.P did and they eventually went back to TS Entertainment, didn’t they? The few successful groups to have fought back against their unfair contracts are Shinhwa and JYJ who left SM Entertainment (not to mention ongoing lawsuits by Wu Yifan, Huang Zitao, and Luhan, and complaints from f(x)’s Amber and Super Junior M’s Henry – just how shitty is this company really?), and Block B filed a suit against their old agency Stardom Entertainment because the company didn’t pay their wages for an entire goddamn year. Minzy didn’t renew her contract with YG Entertainment because Yang Hyun Suk focused so much on new groups he’d basically left 2NE1 to stagnate for years – the members each made roughly $50k in 2015 without any new material or promotions, and that’s about what a normal dude makes in America from his white collar job. If I were Minzy, I’d be pissed the fuck off too. Right now BEAST is fighting against Cube Entertainment to have the rights to their group name, much like what Shinhwa did, and cases like those take decades to settle. And these are the more high-profile cases where the artists basically went, “You know what? Fuck it,” and put up a fight. What about SEVENTEEN, who had some of their songwriting copyrights taken away by Pledis Entertainment? The oldest among them is born in 1995 – that’d make S.Coups 22 years old this year – so how would you expect them to deal with a lawsuit? Unfair work environments and dodgy deals surround these idols on a daily basis, and it’s all the more unfair when you think about how most of these new generation idols are just kids.

Let’s not even get into the nitty gritty mess that is the trainee years. You can’t help but think there’s something wrong when you hear idols reminisce about their trainee days where they slept in a pile in packed rooms and spent hours upon hours practising, all with no wage or no allowance. They’re trainees – they’re an investment made the company. If they make it, they make it. If they’re lucky, they make it big after years of training and only after debut can they hope to think about getting paid. If they’re not particularly lucky, they end up in some nugu group that take years to gain recognition and aren’t even very well known outside their fandom. If they’re super unlucky, their group falls down by the wayside mere months after debut – and this is just the groups that do debut. What about the hundreds of groups that don’t even make it past their debut? Groups that don’t debut at all? What about trainees that spend years training since they were teenagers only to have no career at all? For every successful rookie group on the market right now, there are at least fifty that have fallen by the wayside. It’s a fact worth bearing in mind.

Next part: albums, chart rankings, and how the Korean entertainment industry milks the idol fandom of all their money.