Friday, March 23, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: The Showdown between SHINHWA and SHINee (1)

14 신화, 4 샤이니 맞짱뜨다
The Great Showdown between 14-Year-Old SHINHWA and 4-Year-Old SHINee

It’s really interesting most of the singers and lead singers of the (ex and current) SM bands or idol groups seem to sing just like Yoo Young-jin (유영진), singer, songwriter, producer, and musician who started his career at SM Entertainment (SM) and currently serves on the board of directors for the company:  Kangta (HOT), Bada (SES), Shin Hye-sung/Lee Min-woo (SHINHWA), Hwanhee (Fly to the Sky), Junsu/Yunho/Changmin (TVXQ), Jay (TRAX), Yesung/Ryeowook/Kyuhyun (Super Junior), and Jonghyun (SHINee) to name a few.  In other words, SM produces music that is full of Bbonggi (뽕끼) or Bbongbbal (뽕빨).1  Of course, I enjoy listening to their music that is typified by its use of the hook heavily loaded with Bbonggi or Bbongbbal, but sometimes it's like they’ve been stuck in a rut of musical creativity.  This is why SHINee and f(x) are especially my favorites as their music is quite peculiar and offbeat for SM kids. 

1. Bbonggi (뽕끼) or Bbongbbal (뽕빨) is a slang word that refers to a quintessentially Korean sentiment portrayed in Gayo (가요, “contemporary Korean music”), which is rooted in Korea's own music, Pansori (판소리). Bbonggi or Bbongbbal can roughly translate to “Overflowing sorrow, soul, or spirit” and you’ll easily know what it feels like when you listen to ABBA, Kenny G, or American country singers like Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt, or Shania Twain.  There’s close similarities between Korean and European sentiments and I think that’s why ABBA has been Korea’s all-time favorite since they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” and also, this is why SM has been working with European songwriters to get main melodies for a song – SM later recomposes and arranges the melodies into a final work.

I personally think American country music and Korean Teuroteu (트로트, “Trot,” a word derived from “Foxtrot”) music, the epitome of Bbonggi or Bbongbbal, bear similarity in many ways, especially in rhythm, style, and sentiment.  Some people believe Teuroteu originated from Japanese Enka during Japanese occupation of Korea, but they are particularly alike.  I think Korean Teuroteu is more like a variety of Pansori, heavily influenced by American country music ever since the Eight US Army stepped into Korea during the Korean War.

And let me say one more thing:  The SM kids have always come across to me as more of porcelain figurines, the JYP kids as more of Dak Jongi (닥종이, “Traditional Korean Mulberry paper”) figures of Kim Young-Hee, the sculptress, and the YG kids as futuristic robot figures.  And SHINee and f(x) are somewhere between SM and YG:

SHINee released their mini album, “Sherlock,” on line on March 21, 2012, and the album itself and its title song became instant hits, ranked No. 1 on real-time charts.  And also upon release off line (03/21/2012), the group dominated real-time daily album sales charts.  They made their official comeback on Mnet’s “M! Countdown” stage on March 22, 2012 and released their dance practice video of “Sherlock” the next day.  Yes, the first thing that caught my attention was their captivating dance moves, flamboyantly choreographed by Tony Testa.  (Testa choreographed the late Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It Tour’ that never happened and also worked with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Janet Jackson.  He flew into Seoul, Korea, last February to teach them the choreography of “Sherlock” in detail and in person.)

Anyway, my first reaction at first listen and watch was something like this: “How do they do it?” and my second one went like, “What’s with Taemin’s hair extensions?”  Maybe it's just me but I don’t get it.  Is that to pay homage to the 2005-2006 Heechul (Super Junior) that we all know no one can beat in that department?  And tell me about their photos featured in the album.  I don’t understand what SHINee’s Bohemian, or Native Indian, or whatever looks and their naked chests have got to do with Sherlock.  I bet neither anyone of SHINee does. 


But overall, they end up sounding just like themselves – DA SHINee – and especially, Onew and Key rock!  

[MV] SHINee: Sherlock (2012) 

I just hope they show more of their mellow side as they did in “Replay” and they don't fall into the trap of self-plagiarism as Super Junior (SJ) did.  It’s not because I think self-plagiarism is unethical or something, but just because it bores the listeners like myself.  When SJ’s “Bonamana” came out, I was still patient enough to put up with that seemingly-“Sorry, Sorry”-revisited song, thinking next time they’d move on.  But the third replica of the song, “Mr. Simple,” made me feel like I was listening to the same song over and over again and was starting to tire me.  I hope SHINee evolves to challenge the listeners more.

[LIVE] SHINee: Stranger & Sherlock (2012) 
Mnet's M! Countdown (air date: 03/22/2012)

As follows is SHINee's performance on MBC's Eumak Jungsim (음악중심, "Music Core), aired on March 24, 2012.  The video clip was uploaded with "MRremoved.  Here, MR stands for Music Recorded, a "Konglish" (Korean + English) expression for "Pre-recorded Backing Tracks," which are professionally composed by singers themselves to use it on stage or in other high-level professional contexts such as TV. In most cases, even vocals are pre-recorded for backing tracks.  So, do you think you can sing this good with all the dance moves jam-packed with catchy, energetic choreography including what looks like Russian kazatskis (only without squat)?  I know I can't. I wasn't even able to sing "Ring Ding Dong" in tune or on beat while snugly sitting on a couch when I had a Noraebang night with my friends last year.  

[LIVE] SHINee: Sherlock (2012) 
MBC's Music Core (air date: 03/24/2012) 

SHINee: "Sherlock" dance practice 
(Release date: 03/23/2012)  

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