Thursday, May 17, 2012

[let me talk about kpop for a minute] exo.

I usually go through phases, where I'll just be really obsessed with k-pop, and then I wouldn't listen to any of it for a bit, and then I'll be manically refreshing omona, and the cycle continues.... currently I'm in the k-pop phase again, and this time it's pretty bad. I've been getting very analytical of it in recent times, which makes it worse because it's so much fun. It's actually really interesting to dig through kpop a bit more seriously. It could be because I've been really into analyzing things lately, but the fact that kpop is so flawed, and there are some obvious shortcomings but there are also such hidden gems, and always room for improvement... all those things make it so much fun to ramble on endlessly about kpop. So let me talk about kpop for a couple of posts. share my irrelevant two cents about silly boy bands and girl groups.

And since I headlined this entry with the wonderful face of D.O, (from hereon, Kyungsoo since I prefer that), why don't I start with EXO. Oh. Exo. To be honest I was extremely skeptic of them before the debut. Why the 24058 teasers? And this Kai dude, he's not attractive at all! What's the big deal? And what is this crazy idea of having two groups under the same name promote same songs in Chinese and in Korean in two different countries - that's so confusing! It's not gonna work!

Putting my skepticism aside, and after I have laughed for a good 10 minutes after my initial viewing of the MAMA music video, I was won over. I can't really pinpoint what got me into them so much, but yup, I knew all their names by the first week after MAMA was released, I had my bias list figured out, I had a stupid grin on my face when EXO-K first performed MAMA live on a music show, and I was clawing at my face when I watched my first EXO-M interview. I was sold. Darn, SM. You win this around.

But now that I have watched enough of their performances and interviews, listened to their mini album a bit too much and have seen my share of their off stage antics, I'm beginning to form some coherent thoughts on them that isn't "omgbaconbaozidonutsDON'TLEAKANYMOREchanyolo". Exo is definitely an interesting venture on SM's part, and EXO has enough talent in them to keep them going for a while (hopefully). EXO as a 12-member group is extremely strong, I feel like that they have a really great group dynamic as a whole (and as K and M too), and the dance for both History and MAMA are stronger as 12-member pieces, from what I have seen from the music videos. I also love the relationships between the Chinese members and the Korean members - they seem to genuinely care for each other, which is great to see.

Now onto the subgroups. EXO-K has gotten significantly more exposure being the group for Korea, and we've seen them from more angles. Musically, it's clear that neither of EXO groups are particularly strong, but EXO-K has Baekhyun and Kyungsoo who show a lot of potential. But from their live performances it's obvious that EXO-K wasn't exactly ready to debut; Kyungsoo seems like he's peeing his pants every performance (although it's gotten better exponentially) and he can barely hit the right notes when he's belting out the long notes. Obviously he has a  lot of potential as a vocalist, but a big part of live performance depends on the stage presence and he somewhat lacks that. Baekhyun, on the other hand, is very stable, and has a great stage presence. He's also a very capable dancer; I feel as though his potential as a dancer is extremely underrated, because I'd even consider him one of the best in the group. Suho is also a very stable singer and like a breath of fresh air since his voice is a nice contrast to Kyungsoo's and Baekhyun's. I actually really like Suho's voice, and I can't wait until we get to hear more from him. The vocal black holes of EXO-K are Kai and Sehun, who obviously are not the singers of the groups, but not rappers either. They're sort of horrible as rappers, and musically they are both dead weight for the group. At least they're both capable dancers, Kai especially, which is a relief of sorts. Kai also has a phenomenal stage presence - he is so captivating to watch on stage. Sehun, on the other hand, I haven't seen much, but he's been pushed to the back most of the time so let's not be too harsh on him. Personally, the biggest surprise for me musically was Chanyeol, who proved to have the sexiest rapping voice I've heard in recent times (quasi-pros like Zico, Park Kyung and Bang Yong Guk excluded). And boy, this kid has swagger. His rap in Two Moons is some of the best I've heard in idol music, and definitely the best I've heard coming out of SM.
EXO-K also has extremely endearing personalities (see: Chanyeol, Baekhyun, Kyungsoo), and it's really great to see them get more comfortable with being idol groups, because they do have a lot to offer, I think. And they are so darn cute, damn.

EXO-M, although we haven't seen much of them, have surprised me greatly last week when we finally got to see them perform live (although they lip-synched, boo) in HD on MBC Show Champion. It was a pleasant surprise to see them so confident on stage, especially since they have significantly less experience performing than K. They really developed through their interviews as well, and seem more comfortable in the  recent ones. (On Show Champion when Xiumin introduced himself as Bao Zi and Tao was so excited to say that he was Kung Fu Panda - I died) I think EXO-M is far more interesting visually than K; EXO-K is exactly what you'd expect from SM - a polished looking bunch of pretty boys. EXO-M, on the other hand, has more variety - you got your strikingly good looking model dude (Kris), the unbelievably cute babyface (Lu Han), the vicious looking maknae (Tao), the guy with the face of a sculpture (Chen), the bao zi (Xiumin) and the fabulous unicorn (Lay). What remains a mystery about them though, is their musical ability, mostly because they haven't had the chance to show off their skills. Chen, the lead vocal, is a very strong singer recorded but I have yet to see him sing live and really determine how good he is. Lu Han also seems to have a strong voice. We haven't really heard from the rest of the members, although I feel like Lay and Xiumin seem to have really nice voices and have a lot of potential. It's not like they have strong rappers, either. M's version of Two Moons is almost embarrassing to listen to, and the resident rapper Kris has been just really nice to look at when he's just standing there looking like a model, and Xiumin being so bad at Chinese doesn't really help him as a rapper either.

Speaking of Chinese. I have something to say about EXO-M and their Korean members. Obviously it's not their fault that Chen and Xiumin ended up in EXO-M but I blame SM for so naturally assuming that it was going to be okay to put Korean members who didn't know Chinese at all in M. I'm actually so glad that they don't seem to have any issues among the group members because that would just have been heartbreaking to see, but it's still so unprofessional of SM. First of all, their names. I know it's just stage names but giving the two Korean members Chinese stage names, when they can't even speak Chinese... I was almost offended when I saw them resort to speaking Korean in interviews, because I naturally assume that they were Chinese. I don't think it's fair for anyone, especially the Chinese audience, to present these Korean members as Chinese (although SM has never said this directly, it's so obvious by their names) when they clearly are not. And I don't think it's fair for the Korean members as well. It's so obvious that they could be easily replaced, it wouldn't make a single difference if SM stuck in two different Korean kids in the group instead of Xiumin and Chen because it's not like they speak the language. It's just not fair for anybody. I almost dreaded seeing them in interviews and in Chinese media after I found out that they were Korean and didn't speak Chinese because I felt like it's so easy for them to slip up and show that they hate being there (as Korean trainees they were probably expecting to debut in Korea and instead they were put in a foreign country where they don't speak the language and the market is hugely under-developed) but they have been so, so endearing so far, showing a lot of enthusiasm. I just wish that they are as enthusiastic about learning Chinese because it's still cringe-worthy to see them speak Korean in Chinese interviews.

But I have a lot of hope for EXO. I really like all the members (I'm even warming up to Kai and Sehun... slowly but surely...), and I can't wait until we get to see them shine more on variety shows and such.

As for the mini-album, I was more than impressed. MAMA is still a dumb song, and What is Love is too Yoo Young Jin for my taste, but Angel and Two Moons are totally my jam. Angel is so beautiful, and a really great ballad - it's almost reminiscent of some of Beast's ballad tracks, which is a good thing. Two Moons really shows how great Chanyeol is as a rapper, and Key sounds awesome in it as well. Obviously I wasn't too impressed with Baekhyun doing the chorus tracks for a lot of the EXO-M songs since I believe Chen and/or Luhan are capable of doing them themselves, but well, I can't ask for too much, when it's SM controlled by YYJ. Speaking of YYJ, he really needs to get out, I'm really beginning to hate his style.

I'll probably return soon! I have lots and lots to say about recent k-pop.

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