2009: The year in music

For me, 2009 was the year of K-pop, no doubt. Therefore, you’re going to see a lot of K-pop in here. Namely, a lot of DBSK. Resolution for 2010: diversify my music tastes. (And with the DBSK hiatus, I have a feeling that I’ll be achieving that goal a lot quickly than I’d like…)

FAVORITE ALBUMS:

Tohoshinki: The Secret Code–Okay, yes–of course I’m going to put my newest obsession favorite group at the forefront of the list, but I fell completely in love with this album for one reason–its musicality. Well, duh. But for an idol boyband, that’s pretty impressive. I’ve always favored DBSK’s Japanese stuff for that very reason–the music seems much less manufactured. Most of it takes on a bit of a cool jazz-and-funk feel, which is really unique when contrasted to the electronica trend that’s taken over much of K-pop and J-pop this year. I can easily say that I enjoy every track off of this disc (okay, maybe not “FORCE” but it’s a good transition from the intro so I can’t complain)–“9095” is haunting and sexy, “Nobody Knows” is funky and cool, “Bolero” is downright beautiful. And the Japan tour just enhances the whole experience.

Super Junior: Sorry Sorry–It took them four years and two full-length albums, but Super Junior has finally made me like them. The album is itself evidence of Super Junior’s maturity–most of the tracks are pretty adultish, with the exception of “Happy Together”–but every album needs at least one song of that sort in order to keep things light. All in all, this album turned me into a partial Super Junior fan. Man, if they keep this streak up, I might turn into a full-fledged ELF by next year. That’s a scary thought.

Epik High: [e]–I think my rant in my Seoulbeats Year-End Extravaganza(!!!) explains my thoughts on this rather thoroughly, so I’ll just spend this small section fangirling. Everyone acknowledges that Epik High does some pretty frigging fantastic work by now, and I suppose the reason for the decrease in hype for [e] was for that very reason. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing. Epik High is known for its skill in crossing genres, and it certainly does so with [e]. Plus, it’s their first self-produced album.

DBSK: The 3rd Asia Tour Concert Mirotic In Seoul

Trufax: I only got this album because Koryo Books in New York City didn’t stock the real Mirotic album. But am I glad I did. To be honest, the Secret Code concert will always take first place in my heart, but the Mirotic concert was the one concert I watched at 3:00 AM, and even then, I didn’t want it to end. It was just too much fun.

Nonetheless, I’m still surprised at myself by putting this album on my list. I have one beef with the Asia tour concerts, and that is the fact that the boys are lip-synching all the SMP songs. I don’t have any love affair with SMP songs, but it really impresses me when they do the intense dancing while singing…like they do in Japan. It’s generally understood that lip-synching is a pretty common practice in K-pop, but even so, it adds a level of cheapness to the performance. Which is why it kind of irritates me that they still lip-synch a performance that they could’ve done live.

Eh. It doesn’t bother me all that much. It’s mostly outweighed by a solid set-list, some great stage commentary (even with my limited Korean, I’m still laughing at the opening ment over and over again), and the solos. Zomg. The solos are total love. Changmin’s “Upon This Rock” shows off his range and his surprisingly good English pronunciation skills. Yoochun’s ballad rendition of “Love Bye Love” is heartbreaking, beautiful, and intense. Jaejoong’s “It’s My Life” is a classic hard rock ballad (if there is such a thing). He does it right, and he does it in the classic Jaejoong style. (Seriously, after hearing “Maze” and “It’s My Life,” I’m really wondering why Jaejoong isn’t a part of TRAX. Might’ve brought that high-potential group back from the grave. At least give the man some more rock pieces; he does ’em right!) And Yunho’s “Checkmate” is pretty standard, but who doesn’t like a live performance of “Checkmate”?

I didn’t find the Mirotic concert as visually dynamic as Secret Code, which is why I’m not getting the DVD, Dating on Earth or otherwise. (It’s also $55, so…) But the CD is a close second.

UO Divisi: RootsYeah, I know, kind of random, and I’m fairly certain that Roots was released prior to 2009 but…for those who don’t know, UO Divisi is a fantastic all-female a cappella group from University of Oregon. I’ve always been more impressed by all-male a cappella groups (I guess this works in the same vein as fangirls prefering boy groups over girl groups, except that most members in all-male a cappella gropus are generally not that gorgeous), but UO Divisi blows me away every time. Roots, in my opinion, is their best work yet, with a cappella covers of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” to Guster’s “Two Points for Honesty” to Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.”

Tim Be Told: Getting By–I heard about Tim Be Told several summers ago when a few friends got to see them at a Christian conference, and they wouldn’t stop talking about them. I listened to a few of their songs, decided that they were kinda cool, and left it at that. But then Ellie from Seoulbeats/AATheory interviewed them, and it made me fall in love all over again. I finally got to listen to their full album a little while ago and I loved, loved, loved it…loved it enough to put it on this list, haha. Tim Be Told combines pop, rock, gospel, and some jazzy piano in order to create awesomeness. And their lyrics are really something.


FAVORITE SONGS:

Tohoshinki: “Bolero” (January)

Say what you want about it being too dramatic, too ballady, too darned long…but it was their performance at Ontama Carnival that completely drew me into DBSK for good. I was downright obsessed with this song for the first few months of my DBSK fandom. I loved everything about it–the waltz-like tempo, the adlib bridge (Changmin = ♥, but you all knew that already), Jaejoong’s look in the PV. And I still do, although my love of DBSK ballads has diversified immensely. All in all, this song serves as the perfect conclusion to a great album, a great concert…and a great year. ^^

Tohoshinki: “Survivor” (February)

“Survivor” is one of those songs that I would’ve relentlessly giggled at if not for my desensitization to Engrish. I didn’t realize how much Engrish is in this song until I actually sat down and listened to it with the intent of looking for Engrish. I mean, “Sur-bi-boh.” How could I have missed it.

And yet, I owe a big one to my Engrish-shield, because I adore this song.

Yes, it is kind of irritatingly SMP-y, but on the other hand, it’s pretty intricate. The background instrumentals are starkly complex if you take the time to listen to it…and yes, it proves that annoying techno can actually be musically legit. The melody line does get repetitive, but I have to give props to the boys because it’s hard to sing. The upside though, is that this is one of those pieces that shows off their vocal prowess without having to resort to crazy ad libs.

The PV, however, I cannot forgive. Never mind the fact that there’s, like DBSK clones, or that there’s an unintentional plug for Apple, or the ridiculous outfits. That’s all acceptable. What is not acceptable, however, is the return of Yoochun’s Jack Sparrow hair.

Tohoshinki: “9095” (March)

It’s so hard for me to pick my favorite cut off of The Secret Code, but if there ever was one, it’d be “9095.” It’s just so different not only from all of DBSK’s past work, but from current K-pop and J-pop and…well, anything really that’s not weirdly indie. That’s right, DBSK’s making trance music mainstream. And that makes me a happy camper.

I would call it ‘mysterious,’ but everyone calls it mysterious and I don’t think that that fully describes the weirdly haunting aura it embodies. Well, it is haunting…and sexy. Boy is it sexy. And boy, did they know it was sexy. Here’s their perf from Tokyo Dome, the one that caused fangirls everywhere wishing that they were that mic stand.

Super Junior ft. Yunho, Yoochun: “이별…넌쉽니 (Heartquake)” (March)

Apparently March was a good month for good music. (Or maybe just good Super Junior/DBSK music…) I wasn’t as much impressed with Super Junior’s performance in this song as I was Yunho and Yoochun’s rap. Finally we get to hear them show off their skills without a) getting all emo screamo (ahem, Yunho), or b) using nonsensical Engrish (ahem, Yoochun). Yoochun’s voice was practically made for rap, so I had no doubts about him. But I was glad to hear him show off some real skill instead of being continuously exploited for his English pronunciation skills. Yunho, on the other hand, surprised me. To be honest, I always thought that they made Yunho rap mostly because his singing wasn’t as strong as the others, and since he’s the manly leader, he should then be the manly rapping leader. But his performance in “Heartquake” surprised me. It wasn’t as impressive as Yoochun’s performance, but it was emotional and it was well-practiced…in typical uptight Yunho fashion.

Super Junior: “너라고 (It’s You)” (March)

It’s songs like this that made me love Sorry Sorry. I have to admit that the handclapping intro is getting a little old for me (“Purple Line,” and then “Tired of Waiting,” and now this?) but it worked as a semi-base line throughout the song. Kangin’s part in the chorus made me fall completely in love with his voice, but not only that, I think this is one of the first examples where we get to hear each member’s individual voice distinctly. And with thirteen members, that’s no simple feat.

Plus, the MV is AWESOME. Like, caps-worthy awesome.

Kim Joon: “비위내기 (To Make Empty)” (April)

As much as a soundtrack travesty as Boys Over Flowers was, I have to admit that the music from the F4 Special Edition soundtrack is definitely worth a listen. This track in particular features Kim Joon (who played Woobin, the forgotten F4 member) rapping with fellow T-Max member Kim Jo-han on backup vox. I will willingly admit that Woobin was one of my favorite characters in Boys Over Flowers for one reason: his sexy voice. And sexy voice rapping pretty much makes it for me. And not to sound condescending or anything, but that slight lisp that he has makes it all the better.

Tim Be Told: “Analyze” (May)

This is the first track off of Tim Be Told’s latest EP, From The Inside. The main vocal line is complex and beautifully so. The chorus is a little cliched-sounding, but it adds to the feel of the song as a whole. And the lyrics, as always, are really…something. Gives you lots to think about. I’m really looking forward to seeing this band grow–their frontman and lead vocalist, Tim Ouyang has pipes like a fiend, and the instrumentalists are fairly skilled. They really do deserve a lot more recognition than what they’re currently getting.

2NE1: “Fire” (June)

Let me get this straight. I don’t like 2NE1. I admire them for the work they do and for the strong ‘girl-power’ message they send out, but they’re not really my thing. “Fire,” however, is a good song. I think it’s CL’s little intro that first captured me. To be honest, it’s not excellent music, but I think I can allow myself to list one song on here simply for the sake of catchiness.

Baek Ji-young ft. Taecyeon: “My Ear’s Candy” (August)

…Or two songs. Baek Ji-young, you’re wonderful. Taec, you can’t sing. But you’re good looking, so it’s okay. And plus, who didn’t like the live performances of this song?

Regardless, it’s just your typical K-pop fare…addicting catchiness with a fangirl-swoon worthy performance. I’m not complaining.

Kim Jaejoong, Park Yoochun: “Shelter” (September)

This is why I highly prefer DBSK’s Japanese stuff as opposed to their Korean stuff. This is also why I highly prefer DBSK’s self-composed Japanese stuff as opposed to their H.U.B. written Japanese stuff. Nothing against H.U.B.; I think he’s awesome and his stuff definitely is a lot more artistic than the SM-generated ‘typical catchy K-pop’ that Yoo Young-jin writes.

No; to me, “Shelter” is proof that the DBSK boys can write quality songs that are not ballads. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve loved all their self-composed ballads too–“Wasurenaide” is a good example–but one of DBSK’s charms is its versatility. And “Shelter” exemplifies that to a T.

Tight harmonies, an intense rap, a beat that drives, and, of course, awesome vocals. What more could you ask for. There’s nothing in here I’d fix–maybe the Engrish in Yoochun’s rap, but the rap was so tight and full of emotion that I’d be afraid to toy with it.

Hands down my favorite song of the year. Just wish that they’d promoted it more.

Brown Eyed Girls: “Moody Night” (October)

To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with Sound G as I’d thought I would be…loved “Abracadabra” (of course), “Candy Man,” and…”Moody Night.” Yes, kind of a weird choice when juxtaposed against the two mainstream pop pieces, but that’s generally how my taste in music works.

“Moody Night” is…interesting. The good interesting. The intro beat is confusing as anything, but slowly falls into place after a few bars. The vocals are just perfect, the aura is just perfect. Kinda like a house/trance/techno mashup, with ballady vocals. It really is quite clever and very unique. It follows the K-pop techno trend without compromising on quality.

2PM: “기다리다 지친다 (Tired of Waiting)” (November)

I am SO FREAKING PSYCHED that 2PM is finally promoting this song! Personally, I was getting a bit sick of “Heartbeat” even with the gratuitously fanservicey live perfs. The intro reminds me of “Survivor” or “It’s You” a little too much for my own comfort (PLAGIARISM!!!11!!1!one!), but at least it’s a good trend.

“Tired of Waiting” is just what you’d expect from 2PM, and just what you wouldn’t expect from 2PM. For one, there’s legit singing throughout the song, and the vocal prowess shown isn’t exclusively in background adlibs, courtesy of Junsu. There’s definitely some liberal use of autotune, but you can’t produce such a complex melody by simply autotuning a faulty vocal.

Speaking of autotune….I’ve always had a bit of a vendetta against autotune, but by adding autotune throughout the whole song, it makes it more of a theme than a cheap trick to cover up bad vocals. Which, for 2PM, was a bit of a habit in the last two singles. I think the general criticism with 2PM is with weak vocals. To be honest, I know that Junsu’s an amazing singer and all, but he still needs to work on his tone and control. If 2PM could put a considerable amount of focus on vocals, I will guarantee you that their hype will finally match their abilities. Because–don’t get me wrong, I love 2PM, but the fact that they’re rising to the top simply by the combination of personality, stage charisma, and acrobatic dance moves is a little worrying. But if they want to stay on top, they need to be good vocalists as well. Because that’s kind of what being a singer is all about. Otherwise, they’re just going to be a sensation that will stick around for a little bit, but once the public gets tired of the pyramids and the flippies, then there’s nowhere else to go.

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It’s probably a combined blessing that a) I limited myself to music of 2009 (with a few exceptions) and b) DBSK didn’t have activities galore this year. Otherwise, this post would’ve been just about chock-full of DBSK, and that would’ve been irritating. (Plus, I have the rest of this blog to fangirl about DBSK. Figured I’d leave one post semi-sacred.)

Bad year for K-pop drama, not a bad year for K-pop music. I sure did pick a lucky year to get interested in K-pop. And it’s pretty needless to say that I’ve discovered that K-pop is a pretty cool (albeit sometimes unhealthy) place to hang out. Hey, it could be American pop. >>

Here’s to a better year for K-pop in 2010, and keep the music coming!

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  • Monica

    All I am going to say is this: Naegia Candy. SO MUCH WIN.
    Well, okay, I’ll add that I agree with most of everything you picked. Except “Fire”… “Please Don’t Go” for me anyday, if we have to pick 2ne1 songs^^
    *goes off to watch unf-worthy 9095 perf for first time*

  • jamieguo

    Enjoyed reading this, and have to agree with your top pics. Love, love 9095. I don’t know how much of DBSK we’ll see this year and have the feeling it’ll be the last year for them and that’s sad.

    Also had to agree with this “Because–don’t get me wrong, I love 2PM, but the fact that they’re rising to the top simply by the combination of personality, stage charisma, and acrobatic dance moves is a little worrying.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. With all their activities as well, it looks like they won’t have a chance at vocal practice since their schedules are chock full of CFs, MC’ing and variety shows. That’s one reason why I wish Jaebum was back. He’s so talented he’ll up the aw factor of the group just by being there and he seems dedicated to improving himself.

  • -got here from SeoulBeats, thought I’d read some rants on the way-

    ” fellow T-Max member Kim Jo-han ”
    There is no T-Max member called Kim Jo-han. He is not a part of T-Max, he is a solo artist.

  • thank you for your review (although i only read tvxq’s part, hehe..)

    yeah, i’m a bit disappointed for some lipsynch in mirotic concert, but many cassies say that they don’t have to prove us how amazing they sound. And my favourite korean concert is “O” =D

    and do you realize that they have only one lipsynch in The Secret Code concert. And they did it amazingly. If you want to watch their up beat song in live, try watching T and Five in The Black Concert =D