Lady Gaga’s got nothin’ on this: KPOP 101

13 Oct

Once upon a time in a far away land called Denial, I listened to Korean pop (or better known as Kpop).

Yep. Slap that judgement on me, I bloody well deserve it. To be fair, I went into it  kicking and screaming, before my eyes turned glassy from the buffet of hot, chiseled men and ears turned deaf from auto-tune. I truly question myself  nowadays when I accidentally come across a new boyband/girlband- what the heck was I thinking? (I’ve come to the conclusion that I wasn’t.)

Kpop is slowly (yet, disturbingly surely) taking over the world. Some of it has already seeped into non-Asian shores, what with Rain making various stops in the States for his comeback tour, Lee Byung Hun as the kick-ass ninja dude in G.I. Joe, Jeremy Scott practically salivating for 2NE1 and – right here in Ozzie land – the 2011 KPOP Music Fest in Sydney.

This, dear readers, is called the Hallyu Wave. And it’s gonna take over your iTunes by storm whether you like it or not.

To make things simpler, this post will come in 2 parts, in an attempt to make you understand a) why it’s becoming so popular b) why I don’t like it even after spending nearly a year obsessed with it and c) why I won’t judge you even if you start to find yourself liking it.

1. THE PEOPLE/CULTURE

This may not mean much to non-Asians, but the Korean culture is a friggin’ big deal in Kpop-land. Y’know what, I’m not even gonna call the country Korea anymore, it’s Kpop-land now. The Korean culture has a massive influence in Kpop-land and can arguably govern what the artists can and cannot do.

I’m gonna take a stab in the dark here and assume that the only things you know about Koreans are that they love plastic surgery, kimchi and bow a lot.

Well, you’d be right. They love/do all of that, but that’s not all there is to them.

The important thing in Korean culture has to do with relationships. They have different speech levels, that is to say, the way they talk to their grandparents, parents, older siblings, younger siblings, same-aged friends, different-aged friends are all different. They speak in honorifics to their elders, and various other versions of speech when it comes to others. Age is a big thing in Kpop-land and it also determines the kind of relationships you have with the person.

With these relationships, you’ve also got expectations. As soon as you’re a relatively well-known person in Kpop-land, you’re gonna have expectations from practically everyone around you and even beyond that. You’d expect the normal expectations in terms of music of doing/performing well from your bosses, peers and fans. In Kpop-land, you’d also have to face personal expectations. Fans expect you to respect them and respect the culture, to generally be a good person and if you’re not, you can bet they’re gonna call you out on it. This is what’s majorly different from English mainstream music, because if people tuning in don’t like what you’re doing, they’re gonna say something about it.

2. THE MUSIC

It’s pop. It’s alllllll pop. Okay, no, I’m lying – there are occasional gems like indie-pop band Clazziquai Project and rap groups like Clover but the rest of it is pop. Kpop-land is run by pretty-boy boybands and sexy-cute girlbands.

Here, have some SNSD:

Don’t feel bad if you thought they all looked like the same person. So did I, the first time.

And while you’re at it, here’s some Super Junior:

No, I don’t know why they need so many guys in one band either.

These two songs (and bands) are literally the epitome of Kpop-land. They are the embodiment of Kpop today – catchy, upbeat songs that have signature dance moves. Each band you’re gonna come across in Kpop-land has this all in check: SHINee, KARA, T-ara, 2PM, etc. Soon enough, you’ll find that there’s nothing significantly different about any of these bands and any of their music. It’s become so general that one song blends into another, and it won’t be long till you lose sight of all the music acts that exist (they keep popping up like pimples that never go away).

What bothers me the most though is how most of their music is manufactured. It’s seldom written and produced by the singers themselves,  they usually have an “image” to go along with a song (see T-ara’s cute girl image for Bo Peep – a song that makes NO SENSE AT ALL), promote a maximum of two songs from their new album on music shows and then leave for 3 months, work on a new album, and then restart the entire process.

That’s not music; not to me. Their songs become a byproduct of who they are, a way to promote themselves and continue their stay in Kpop-land. It took me a while to realise that, but it’s obvious that the 84, 817, 886 people who viewed those two videos up there still haven’t.

So! Now that you’re more acquainted with Kpop-land :

i. It’s becoming popular because it’s different. You know what they say, change can be a good or bad thing and that’s up to the person listening to decide, but you can’t deny that this is a breath of fresh air from the repetitive mainstream music currently riding the airplays.

ii. I don’t like it because it’s too shallow. Girls feel this obligation to conform to fit the mold of the perfect Korean girl: fairskinned, slender, and long legs. Guys feel this obligation to always either be Mr.Nice Guy or Mr. Bad Boy; they’re never really portrayed as who they are as a person.These expectations that arise from the media and the public have no right being in a music industry, because they’re taking away the personalities of the very people in it. If one by one all of them start to conform, then wouldn’t we be figuratively listening to the same music over and over again?

iii. It’s easy to get caught in the Kpop-land web. It took me 2 days to give in, and the time I spent in it was undeniably fun. The thing about Kpop-land though, it’s not just about the music. It’s about the music and the people and the culture and the TV shows – it’s this one big ball of cohesion. Singers can be actors, actors can be hosts, hosts can be comedians, comedians can be announcers – it never ends. There is never just one job description for any of them in the industry – they’re all entertainers. And they do a damn good job of it.

So go ahead and venture into the world of Kpop-land. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Advertisements

Oh Ye Early Finish

12 Oct

Review: Street Press Australia, 4ZZZ and Golden District presents: Megastick Fanfare and Oh Ye Denver Birds (September 24th, 2011)

Oh Ye Denver Birds (OYDB) are Brisbane celebrities, with chatty front man Dominic bubbling, “I’m super excited to begin the tour in Bris. We’re going to few places on this tour that we have never played before such as Wollongong & Ballarat so they should be a blast too!”

After being labelled with an obnoxiously large “Wild Parlour” stamp on entry, Alhambra is looking a little quiet considering the 300+ response on the Facebook event, RSVPs just ain’t the obligation they used to be.

Megastick Fanfare begin at 9pm sharp with a hooting, maraca filled track that unfortunately doesn’t instil much movement in the crowd.

These five, friendly looking Sydney boys, with nice – make Mum proud – haircuts complimenting their polite stage banter, “wow, you guys are being very well behaved!”, unfortunately sound so much like Animal Collective you kind of just wished you were listening to the Brooklyn boys, rather than their young counterpart.

However that is not to say that the sound was bad, in fact, punter Lucy thought that it made it easier to listen to, “I love that people are making music so similar to A/C, it expands my choices when i’m in the mood for that kind of thing”.

At 10pm on the dot (what is it with Alhambra and timeliness?) OYDB begin with a long intro of “Swamp”, a song that illustrates what OYDB are about, taken from their upcoming album Good Ivy, due for release in February 2012.

“We all draw inspiration from many different bands and experiences and we try to use this broad array of interests to create something fresh and original. We have always tried to make our band stand out from the rest and make sounds that are new to peoples ears. Otherwise what is the point of creating music?” Dominic Stephens (lead singer, synths, rhythm guitar.)

The audience thickens during the set and a few girls express their love through interpretive-gypsy-turn-stripper dance moves to the band on stage, so much so that key boardist Kat Gough stifles laughter while she, too, grooves along to their all absorbing sound.

How do they react to fans like that? Dominic says it’s no issue, “the atmosphere that a packed room creates is indescribable and always seems to help your performance in the most positive and surprising ways.”

OYDB smash through their tracks, ending on a high note with Triple J Unearthed 5/5 rated, “Walls”. But as Dominic says over the feedback, “it sucks we have to finish up early tonight, guys”, obviously Alhambra’s mum had a strict curfew :s.

Megastick Fanfare Grit Aglow is now out through Other Tongues, OYDB have just released  the single, “I Believe in Love, Kid” with a crazy technicolour film clip exclusively on TheMusic.com.au.

Indie Indian Takeaway Anyone?

12 Oct

Album Review

I like a good curry just as much as the next white, anglo saxon, never-been-to-India person, but this is a different kind of fix.

Named after a British-Indian takeaway joint, Bombay Bicycle Club (BBC), came from reality television beginnings, have experienced the glamour of music awards and are now back with their third studio album, A Different Kind of Fix.

This record sees the band return to electric guitars and introduce sampling into their mix of drums, keys and falsetto harmonies -probably thanks to production input from Animal Collective’s Ben Allen.

Drawing from a pool of creative influence, you get the impression that BBC are still trying to define themselves, with each track using a different approach to the last. For example, “Bad Timing” has such a Modest Mouse darkness and brooding moments in “What You Want” have a distinct Joy Division ring. Let alone the vocal stylings so folkishly Simon and Garfunkel it’s no wonder BBC have described the album as “bringing our fans something different”.

The title A Different Kind Of Fix was taken from an old song lead singer Jack Steadman wrote, about “bad habits and addictive behaviour”, which goes decidedly well with the album, a bit all over the place and indulgent.

Having said that though, the album stands out when all these inspirations come together for  a moment of synergy, a la first single “Shuffle”. The track has no chorus, rather just a bridge that never ends and a catchy and driving hook that makes you wanna do a little head-bop.

Opening track “How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep” is another example of clever craft, with textured layers introduced subtly throughout the intro and first verse, building tension before the chorus unleashes haunting vocals and tribal like repetitions, ending before it even begun, stripping back the layers in reverse until it is just Steadman and his guitar.

The album seeks out a new range for the band, a step away from their previous effort Flaws, which was entirely acoustic and attracted an awards nomination. The band deserve praise for not sticking to their winning formula and instead, pushing themselves further as a band.

I can’t say I’m always in the mood for melodic indie pop, but Naan bread, man, I love that stuff.

The Jet Li in Music

10 Oct
  • His insistence on singing with slurred enunciation
  • One of the 50 most influential figures in China
  • Has sold over 25 million of his albums worldwide  
  • Reclusive and introverted
  • The privacy war between him and paparazzi
  • Idol: Jet Li
  • Winner of worst actor prize in Hong Kong’s Razzies
  • Own record company JVR Music

Yes, some of you might already come up with the answer; Jay Chou, one of the most well-known superstars in Asia.  

If you are familiar with Jay Chou through the movie The Green Hornet, I offer you a better opportunity to fully recognise his talents. No offence to those who think Chou is just a good film director, producer or actor, but his music fascinated me the most. In fact, I am going to avoid addressing too much of the comments regarding his poor performances in the movies The Treasure Hunter and Kung Fu Dunk. I only would like to highlight Chou’s musical talents, taking Asia and the world by storm.

“Jet Li used kung fu to break into foreign markets, Hollywood. I hope my music can do the same thing.”(Chou never hides his admiration to Jet Li)

“Whoever spread the rumours probably hates me because I beat him at basketball.” (Chou’s response to clear some irresponsible news faked by one gossip magazine who trying to increase their sales).

It’s a well-known fact that Chou is a big fan of Jet Li and also a big hater towards paparazzo, especially when it comes to their invasion of his private life. From All Sides四面楚歌 is a great example of his dislike of paparazzo, where he makes a rant towards paparazzo in Taiwan. He and paparazzi are often in direct conflict with one another. Chou even bought his own camera to photograph anyone who follows him to taunt and discourage the behaviour of taking unsolicited pictures.

Growing up in a single-parent family made Chou a very quiet person, but it also becomes one of the elements that distinguish him and his music from others. One of his albums was named in honor of his mum, Ye Hui Mei (叶惠美). Songs such as Maternal grandmother and Listen to mother show how much of his life priorities are highly related to family value.

“I don’t think I’ll move out, my parents got divorced when I was a kid, and I made up my mind that even if I get married someday, I’ll still live with my mum. So that I can take care of her, keep her company. I’ve been having this thought for many years, no matter what happens in the future; I’ll live with my mum.” Chou once said in a Talk Asian interview.

“…No matter how much money you make outside, you still have to go home, because we have this duty, responsibility to take care of our parents. Perhaps there is some culture differences between Chinese and western people” Chou explained further.

Besides the influence of family in Chou’s music, I also have to mention Vincent Fang (方文山), who has played an essential role in building Chou’s music empire. More than half of the lyrics in all Chou’s albums are written by Fang, along with more than a dozen awards in Asia for Fang’s lyrical compositions. It is an unexpected spark between Fang’s well educated knowledge of classical Chinese culture and Chou’s “mumble” R&B, Rap and Pop, as well known as the term “Chou Style”. 

“In what has become the archetypal Chou style, Taiwan’s favourite son blends pop, rap, blues and a smorgasbord of aesthetic elements of world music to create his dream-like never-never land” Taipei Times once defined the “Chou style”

Their consummate cooperation brings surprising chemistry to the Asian music industry. The artistic and historical conception song Blue and White Porcelain (青花瓷) is a song, Fang wrote for Chou, and has won the best Lyricist at 19th Golden Melody Awards.

 

Fireworks Cool Easily(烟花易冷) is inspired from one ancient Buddhism allusions

Fang once talked about his inspiration

“I have a natural passion for traditional culture, which is totally reflected in my works. I love having a consistent artistic feature. So I set a time background or a typical image every time I write something, like a blue ceramic piece, a rainy spring, a wooden bridge above a flowing river, or the anthology of the Orchid Pavilion.”

Chinese people believe there is a predetermined principle called Yuanfen (缘分) that “dictates a person’s relationships and encounters, it has a binding force that links two persons together”.

Maybe it wasn’t only about thanking the others who believed in Chou’s talent, like Fang, not even those singers who rejected his songs, because that served as an avenue to launch his career.

 

R.I.P. Mikey Welsh

9 Oct

Album Review: The Great Unseen by Kate + Max

8 Oct

Image courtesy of Sophie Richards Photography

The story goes like this: a hillbilly met a puppeteer. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which was Kate and which was Max.

I’m not sure what happened after, but the result of that meeting has sprung some sweet and charming melodies I can’t help swaying to. This folk-pop album doesn’t pack much punch, but I get the feeling that that wasn’t what Kate & Max were going for anyway.

The Great Unseen is the Brisbane duo’s debut E.P., six tracks of an easygoing adventure that reminds me of warm summer days and flyaway hair. That is to say, not everything in the album is a trip down happy lane. Max’s dulcet tones lend a heavier anchor to tracks like Lost Sea and Closed Eyes, purring “I’ve got closed eyes, so blind to what you want” to match Kate’s soulful and mature voice.

There’s an elegance in their songs that transcends the lyrics and simplicity reverbs in the whole record; down to the inquisitive guitar plucking and lyrics beautifully sang. The pair strikes a comfortable balance with their clear vocals and bright and expectant melodies.

Kate & Max remind me of a mellowed-out Florence Walsh (of Florence + The Machine) with a heavy dose of Bon Iver, sans their respective dramatic flair, replacing it with a bright-eyed and fresh new pair of eyes set on experiencing the world.

The title track of the E.P is youthful and spry, fusing well with its promise to escape into the great unseen. The lyrics aren’t much to write home about but I’ve found yourself murmuring “I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know nothing” without meaning to and damn if it isn’t catchy.

The clear winner and takeaway of the record, however, is To Anyone Else. It punches a dolorous and melancholy chord, with Kate’s saccharine voice taking a back seat for a deeper and stronger cadence that brings out the emotion of the song. Laced with both an acoustic and electric guitar, this track doesn’t exactly make me want to hum along to it but it did leave me grasping at straws to find out what the heck made me so emo (for a lack of a better word) all of a sudden.

An array of local Brisbane musicians assisted the duo in the production of their E.P, citing friends from Millions and Moonfleet for background guitar and keyboard, with mastering done by Nick Peterson (Bon Iver).

The songs are distinctive in their own right but flow well throughout the album, which is no mean feat for a debut E.P. and for a band that’s been together for less than a year. The tracks don’t appear disjointed and jarring, and they give a pleasant and sweet trippy feeling, as if I’m lightheaded from too much helium and frankly, I can’t be happier with it.

Car wash, football, skateboards, booze, humidity, ex-girlfriends: A Julian Pearce Retrospective.

7 Oct

When I was a wee-one, my dad would play records on his stereo every Saturday morning. The Cure, The Cars, The Angels, Nirvana. Now, I distinctly remember thinking how weird it was for there to be a naked baby on the cover of a CD, or how cool the blonde-haired, scruffy-looking guy giving the finger to the camera was. I remember holding a cricket bat and pretending to play the guitar to In Between Days by the Cure. I remember having a broken foot and slipping over in my cast while jumping around to My Best Friend’s Girl by The Cars, or wondering what the person singing A Man Needs a Maid looked like. Every time I hear the opening strums of Wonderwall, it brings me back to a 40 degree day, out in the sun helping wash my dad’s car. All of these moments are unforgettable for me and every time I listen to these songs or artists, I’m taken back to that huge lounge room in the outer-Melbourne home in the suburb of Lara. The same goes for the rest of my life.

 

I did this to way too many people after seeing this picture.

 

What is it about music that provokes this sort of thinking in a person? No matter what way I think about it I just can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the mystery…All I know is it’s fucking beautiful. It probably explains why I refuse to leave the house without my iPod, or why I deliberately miss buses at midnight, so I can walk home and listen to music. I’m positively obsessed, I’m addicted. Immersing myself in music is all I want to do, especially when I’m all out of answers.

 

I can put an age, time and place on when I was affected by listening to specific albums. Here’s a little chart. I like charts.

 

Nirvana Nevermind/Unplugged at MTV 5-6 years old in the passenger seat with my dad driving home from the football.

 

 

Green Day Nimrod 12 years old, attempting to skateboard on our drive way. Christmas Holidays 2001.

 

 

Jeff Buckley Grace15 years old living at home with my brothers, getting drunk, ditching school.

 

 

The Bronx White Drugs 17 years old, angry at something…probably the heat in Gladstone.

 

 

Weezer Pinkerton I got dumped 2 years ago, fucking sucked.

 

 

No matter what I do, as soon as the first notes of any of these albums start playing, I’m brought back, if only for a moment, to these days, these places, these memories.

 

I would say that I am one to romanticise things, it’s one of my greatest flaws and, perhaps, music helps me do this on a much grander scale. It’s almost like I use it as background themes for moments in my life. Bands I’m listening to at certain points of my life will be immortalised  like hand prints in cement, concrete in my mind as reminders of that time, whether I like it or not. It always amazes me how you can take timeless music and put into perspective just by remembering moments of your life. All of these songs that I’ll never forget seem to live on, with these memories pinned to them. Long live music.

 

What are some albums y’all love? What kind of memories do they bring back for you? Comments below.