Fiestar – You’re Pitiful

If dictionaries had pictures, a full bleed image of Fiestar would accompany the entry on K-POP. The quintet is the living, breathing manifestation of the genre. Their releases marry the commercial with immense artistic flair and they upstage themselves with catchier, more creative pop songs, release after release. You’re Pitiful continues the group’s run of hits, revisiting the sexy concept they toyed with in 2014. Unlike the unashamedly suggestive One More a song about threesomes in hotel rooms, ‘You’re Pitiful’ is melancholic. Angry over a boy who has broken their hearts, the girls sing about being 100% done. In K-POP, break up songs are a dime a dozen but ‘You’re Pitiful’ sets itself apart with strong production.

In the opening bars, the door knocking makes the perfect entree to the wistful synths that form the skeleton of the piece. Reminiscent of the legendary post-chorus synths in Stellar’s Mask, these portray the monotonous numbness of heartbreak through repetition. The glorious hook in the bridge leads to an equally memorable chorus with punchy vocals and an arrangement that is easy to sing along to even for non-Korean speakers. Visual Jei takes a brief timeout to let the group’s rapper Yezi shine with a killer verse following the first chorus. Running off lines with slickness rivalling Miss Dr. Pepper her voice injects swag into the pretty song and makes the girl’s grief that much more believable.

This music video snatches every wig and should be crowned best of the year. Produced by Tiger Cave, infamous for their penchant for symbolism, ‘You’re Pitiful’ is bursting with thought-provoking imagery. Shots of ruby-like pomegranate seeds, raw meat, ominous thermometers and a flawless peep hole placement of Mauna Loa chocolates create a striking music video. The message may not be entirely obvious but this rich visual tapestry showcases the incredible creative talent wedged on the tiny spit of land between China and Japan. The gulf in quality between Korean pop and the rest is staggering – the West by comparison is creatively barren. This 3:57 minute video alone, is proof that South Korea is experiencing a cultural renaissance unrivalled in the 21st century.

Importantly, these are some of the prettiest girls in K-POP. Korea’s Sarah Michelle Gellar Jei, serves Buffy realness with her blood-stained lips and brunette tresses and in one scene lounges in a room piled high with pot noodles and Tim-Tam packets. This may reflect her feelings of rejection, maybe she sees herself as a piece of rubbish thrown away by her ex, or it could just be an amazingly cost-effective method of creating visual interest with a medium-sized budget.

Despite the emphasis placed on the girl’s bottoms, the choreography is Fiestar fierceness. Dancing on chairs is dangerous, factor in heels, you have a recipe for Grace Stomp Lady, but the girls pull it off, even in live performances.

This is a sophisticated comeback worthy of a first tier group. It’s about time these girls have a real fiesta and receive the recognition they deserve. Let’s hope they don’t pull a EXID and PR their asses though, stay classy ladies.

Best K-POP of 2014 #18

G.NA – 예쁜 속옷 (G.NA’s Secret)

If I was to tell you that G.NA had quit K-POP, taken a vow of chastity and become a Catholic nun, would you be cut up about it? Probably not. The busty Canadian’s try-hard attempts to break into the industry tend to go unnoticed by most Korean pop fans and if someone does like her material, it’s because they’re gay and ironically stanning for her. I must confess, I’m in this camp – I’m a fan because I think it’s cool to gush about something or someone who is inherently uncool.

I can’t say that I was excited about this single and on my first listen I focused more on picking out the faults in the music video: the flimsy sets, those Argos deck chairs, the lack of ample cleavage, the overly desaturated lighting that makes everything look like a bleached anus, that creepy smile which ages G.NA by two decades, the lens flares and the lack of a nip slip. However, a switch flicked off in my brain on my second viewing, I did a 180 and madly added the song to my Spotify playlist, just above fellow flop NS Yoon-G. I still listen to this song on a daily basis, I’m listening to it right now, mainly for inspiration but mostly because it’s my song! It’s catchy and while I initially slagged off the music video, I’m kinda in love with it. I mean it features a creepy stalker and tackles subjects such as underwear fetish – in one scene the comedian that played the clueless boyfriend in AOA’s Moya picks up G.NA’s used lingerie and takes a big whiff – when will your favs? Also, there’s this Thai girl Sorn who became famous on K-POP Star Hunt dancing in G.NA’s gang and she is cute and rocks blonde hair. The whole affair gives off a West Side Story vibe. There’s a group of quiche girls dancing together and a troupe of guys doing the same, they interact and I can just imagine them pairing up like the Pink Ladies do in Grease with those leather clad dudes (I can’t actually remember what happens).

As for the song, the verses are strong as G.NA’s unique delivery with its characteristic lisp gives the lines colour. The chorus is catchy, I’m a strong believer in a solid chorus, and the bridge quite beautiful, harking back to her debut ballad that goes by a million names. The song climaxes with G.NA cooing the line ‘I’m crazy about you’, and her voice shines through. There was a time when netizens claimed that she was the best female vocalist in K-POP. Unfortunately those glory days are gone, but the voice remains. It’s not the strongest voice as claimed in that early propaganda but it’s pleasant enough and can hold a tune, which is perfect for a song like this that doesn’t require immense vocal talent. This release is one of those that I like to record myself singing to on PhotoBooth – Yes there are clips of me trying to be as try-hard cute as G.NA. I’m not going to lie, I’m probably cuter.

Best K-POP of 2014 #19

효민 Hyomin – Nice Body

Poor Hyomin was always my least favourite member of T-ara because I never found her pretty. The plastic nose-bridge and implanted Aegyo Sal were features that just didn’t match the perfection of Soyeon and the rest of the gals’ surgically enhanced faces. Her weak voice and hammy acting in ‘My Girlfriend is a Gumiho’ did nothing to help her cause and made her look talentless in comparison to triple threats, Jiyeon and Eunjung. 2014 saw a reversal. It birthed a Hyo’ that I could stan for just as hard as the other girlies.

Nice Body, her first legitimate release as a solo artist won me over because it was brash and bad taste. The concept, suspiciously reminiscent of 200 Pounds Beauty, was all about how good skinny feels and sent a clear message to the females of this world that starvation is key to getting a hot boyfriend. I hoped when I first read the translation of the lyrics that there was a deeper underlying message, and that Hyomin was playing us for fools – that this was an artistic experiment making a mockery of the shallow culture we’ve built for ourselves. Then I remembered that this was a piece of music from image conscious South Korea, where the young and old think nothing of fat-shaming to your face. This song was literally an anthem about losing weight and this ugly message garnered my respect due to its sheer ballsiness.

The music video saw Hyomin pay homage to Miley’s We Can’t Stop – yes there was twerking and this alone was enough to make me join the cult of Hyomin and start praying 5 times a day in the direction of the T-ara dorms. Rocking a sandy-coloured bob Hyomin booty popped in the video, danced with measuring tape in a gaudy one piece emblazoned with her vital statistics and fabulously bent over a dancing beam and writhed like a slutty ballerina.

Basic Brothers (Brave they are not) produced the song and while it was crafted in the same formulaic style as everything else they excreted this year, there was just enough added extras to keep it safe from the butchering blandness that plagued their 2014 material. In terms of creativity, it placed somewhere between AOA’s Miniskirt and follow-up Short Hair. Not as strong as the former, or as monotonously redundant as the latter, the accordion and the rapping from Loco along with the chorus that was far catchier than Ebola made for a summer single that I couldn’t stop playing. If someone was to open the door to my room on any given Friday night they would have seen me trying my hardest to stick my fanny out and sing along to the tongue twisting Korean. Hyomin should be respected as she works damn hard – in one of the last frames in the video there is an unflattering close-up on her face and the BB cream cannot hide the tired eyes of an overachiever like Hyo’. She works hard and has finally earned the respect she deserves. Roll on 2015, I can’t wait to see what trashy single she releases next.

Best K-POP of 2014 #20

지연 Jiyeon – 1min 1sec (Never Ever)

Little Kim Tae Hee’s solo debut was the most well rounded and polished of 2014 in terms of concept and execution. The dance, the most iconic of the year, was full of theatrical choreography that made clever use of props – there was sensual wall grinding, the tormented Jiyeon dancing with her twin through a mirror which E-girls decided they liked, the signature lifting jacket over head while flashing my midriff move that proved too racy for the hypocritical Hermit Kingdom and the sensational hairography that involved the fiercest hair flick of all time and kneeling in water. Jiyeon shined on music shows, flawlessly executing this routine in her performances, gliding from one side of the stage to the other, enthralling audiences with her stage presence. Her voice never faltered and in each performance she carried the song albeit with MR all while staying in character – the emotional torment perfectly portrayed through her voice, dance and face. We already knew that she was a superstar but Jiyeon proved she could make it on Broadway.

CCM (I still call them that) excelled with sexy normcore and Fig&Viper styling, they captured Jiyeon’s tomboyish charm, the ulzzang makeup accentuated her distinctly Korean beauty. The styling was classy sexy – Jiyeon’s hot pants and blazer combination exposed just the right amount of skin and didn’t make her look whorish like most this year. Design-wise things were just as perfect. The album was beautifully packaged (I stumbled across a copy in Leicester Square), and the deliberately low budget looking music video that utilised stop-motion was thought provoking – the references to Salvador Dali’s surrealism elevated the song from pop-music ditty to piece of art.

The Achilles heel was the bore of a song. Typical Brave Brother’s fare, it wasn’t the worst, there were moments of brilliance like the sexy electric guitar that complimented Jiyeon’s writhing and made the blood pump to the nether regions but bar that, it was as lifeless. I stilled stanned for it and learned all the lyrics but I was disappointed for Jiyeon. If CCM had hired another producer instead of Bland Brothers, Jiyeon would be Queen Supreme of this list.

Che’nelle – Happiness & Always Love U

Che’nelle is a flawless hunty and embodies everything a pop artist should represent: She sings in many languages, is a Malay-Aussie goddess, slays live performances and serves up utter musical perfection. I’ve been following her escapades since I stumbled upon her life-affirming cover of Baby I Love You in 2011. The godly hymn which is the most played song in my iTunes library pioneered a new sound for the chanteuse.

Originally a dancehall diva, she moved to Japan after finding success with her first two albums in the archipelago. Abruptly transforming into a Japanese ballader she released her third album Luv Songs, filled with English covers of well-loved Japanese ballads. Baby I Love You was the stand out track on the album. Che’nelle and her production team took Tee’s beautiful melody and created a J-POP classic, on par with Sukiyaki. Drawing on R&B and Reggae influences, with finger snaps and a ‘Touch my Body’ Mariah bounce, it became my everything. Che’nelle knew she had struck gold with this breed of pop and decided to keep it. She has used this sound as the blueprint for a whole string of releases including: Aistheteru, Zutto, her fantastic rendition of MISIA’s Everything and for her newest singles, Happiness and Always Love U.

These two gems are literally Baby I love You 6.0 and 7.0 respectively or something. It isn’t hard to hear the similarities. They’re melodious, mid-tempo ballads, keyboard laden and both have ample amounts of finger snapping. I’m not complaining because why ruin a good thing? The singles stand on their own as slick pieces of pop music that get in your head and stay there. Thankfully they have the injection of Che’nelle home-girl swag that brings her material to life. Always Love U with it’s jolly Christmas bells is so good that I’m considering creating a petition to get it added to the modern Christmas songbook. There’s so much that is right about Che’nelle. She’s seriously becoming a major contender in the J-POP industry, I mean Ayumi Hamasaki who?


#20 TINT – Wolf is Stupid

Every now and then a KPOP group sprouts up overnight that doesn’t seem like anything special, but is so brilliant they become false gods that convert fans with one wink from their visual. TINT, an adorable five piece outfit fresh out of the trainee oven, is one of these anomalies; they have cemented themselves with their new single ‘Wolf is Stupid’, as the Aegyo Aphrodites of KPOP and my go-to girls for cute concepts. Statistically their across-the-board slaying doesn’t compute – they don’t offer up an entirely new take on cute KPOP, million dollar music videos, incredible Operatic lungs, or amazing dance moves, yet despite all this they manage to defy the laws of the universe by coming out on top.

This phenomenon which has stumped the world’s brightest minds and been the product of countless research papers and Discovery channel documentaries has worked wonders for TINT. Not only are they my new favourites, they’re also the top cute troupe in the industry and have relegated A-Pink and Kara to obscurity, making them the definition of redundant without even trying. This isn’t the first time they’ve come in like a pack of terminators and annihilated everyone with their sheer effortless at being better than everything on this planet, their debut was just as amazing as this single, which is in fact only their second one to date – they’re so comfortable, charismatic and they own the spotlight, that it feels like they’ve been in the game for decades not a few months.

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#19 E-girls/RYDEEN – Dance All Night

Surprisingly I’ve always found Japanese girl-group tracks, the perfect marriage of the bizarre and girlish to be very hit and miss. Truth be told, my ears have found them tuneless since day one. The reason behind this has plagued me since I was a brooding teenager harbouring a vicious obsession with everything Asia and the explanation I came up with then still rings true today – due to cultural conditioning my ears are on a different frequency. Girl-group music hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun doesn’t sit right with my ears because well, I didn’t grow up in the archipelago and as a result wasn’t conditioned to like this type of music. Naturally, I’m not on the same cultural wavelength either. Now I’m not talking about language, that is superfluous, rather the cultural influences and subtleties, the country’s musical history, and the psyche of the people. This all matters a great deal as it plays a large role in the development of taste. It’s a shame because visually J-POP girl groups are right up my alley – they’re cuteness is off the scale, new born babes got nothing on them, ’nuff said.

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#17 CREAM – Nobody

Cream have just dropped ‘Nobody’, the first single off their upcoming second album and it’s the best and most magical thing to have happened since the immaculate conception. It doesn’t seem like much time has passed since the duo’s debut, but according to official sources it’s been over a year since Dreamin’ body-slammed shelves and converted me to a Cream stan. To me, it’s like they never left as their inaugural masterpiece and equally flawless follow up ‘Wonderland’, a mini-album of biblical proportions kept me sustained and blissfully unaware of the passing of time. Despite spending the year wandering through a musical desert it wasn’t unpleasant as just like those 40-year trekkers in the Old Testament, the gods were on my side – instead of being blessed with renewable sandals I had ‘KISSING’ and the rest of the Cream pantheon available on repeat. It’s safe to say, Minami and Staxx T had a lot to live up to with this proverbial ‘promised land’ of an album, and if ‘Nobody’ and the title track ‘#NoFilter’ are a taste of what’s to come, they’ve scored a hat-rick, a home-run, and a bullseye.

The song is a retro, upbeat number with a Jackson Five ‘Want you back’ Je n’ais sais quois that has the distinctive sound we’ve all come to know and love stamped all over, however it doesn’t play like a rehash of their previous works. While it has the right amount of creaminess, picture a thick helping of icing atop a cupcake, the bop sounds fresh. The fact they haven’t rigidly followed their iconic recipe-book for success, proves that they’re Asia’s most talented pop-stars. Why? Because these smarties understand the gravity of experimentation and a constantly evolving sound. ‘Nobody’ clearly shows that the pair aren’t content with sitting complacently in Xanadu. They want to grow and continue to surprise so they stay relevant. If they pursue reflection, the sky’s the limit for their budding careers and it’s only a matter of time before they take their rightful places as the royal rulers of the Japanese archipelago and outlaw burikkos and snaggle-tooth fetishes.

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#16 BESTie ‘Thank you very much’

“You’re goddamn right I’m fabulous” Yes, yes you are Hyeyeon. No-one’s disputing that.

BESTie, the quartet coalesced from the cutoffs of one of the best girl-groups in KPOP, EXID, haven’t had the best run with material thus far. First release ‘Pitapat’, was flawed and forgettable while ‘Love Options’, despite being a fan favourite and to some the KPOP industry’s version of a B-Movie cult classic was cute enough but insanely boring. However, ‘Thank you very much’, their newest bop, has to some extent made up for these past offences. It’s genuinely enjoyable and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m unabashedly in love.

As a whole, it’s everything you’ve come to expect from a KPOP release – bubbly, cutesy, manufactured pop with an accompanying music video saturated with neon lens-flares, fluorescent furniture and one blonde, but it’s much more than that. The song doesn’t take the frequently overused and predictable route of describing a girl pining for the boy she fancies à la Hello Venus. No, it’s a girly pop, breakup song that screams female independence. Collective sigh of relief. Instead of taking the sad route, the girls have decided to concentrate on the positives which is even better. Anger at their ex-boyfriends is brilliantly conveyed in the spunky verses, in a sing-song half-rap, half-singing delivery.

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#15 SunMi’s Full Moon is everything

Twerking on a rooftop is a sacred ritual, performed every full moon (If only!)

Ex-Wonder Girl, and usurper to the K-Diva Kingdom, Sunmi has made it abundantly clear with her sophomore single that she isn’t settling for Lady in Waiting;  her almond eyes are firmly fixed on the throne. This ambitious campaign for power couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only a welcome respite from the current hegemony of boy-bands it’s also a breath of fresh air to the stagnated K-diva scene which has long been over due for a shake up; Hyori’s Monochrome was very grey.

I heaved a huge of sigh of relief when I heard Full Moon’s post-chorus bars of sexy-sax and trance-like ‘eh’s because like many fanboys I was scared that Sunmi’s first solo-venture was going to be a one hit wonder. Thankfully, Full Moon is just as flawless as its predecessor. Despite the recycled bits and pieces from Brave Brothers discography and the lack of a strong melody which is typical of their hits (almost a signature), the song is an urban, flowing tune with an almost bewitching nursery rhyme allure. This is especially apparent when the tempo slows down before and after the final chorus. It feels like Sunmi is lulling us to sleep in this small snippet, in the best way possible of course – so she has full reign on our unconscious bodies to do what she wants. Judging by the video this includes a set of sharp fangs, an exposed neck ripe for the picking and blood, lots of blood.

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