At last, confidence and style

I should warn you that at least half of this post will be attributed to my undying, hormone-fueled love for Choi Minho. Which, I suppose, completely invalidates everything I’m about to write, but whatever. It’s been a long week. That being said:

Music Bank 9/10/10: SHINee feat. TRAX: “Lucifer”:

SHINee’s been playing around a lot with live and semi-live music lately, which is something that the mainstream K-pop scene really hasn’t seen for a while. In fact, it’s been a while since K-pop has seen any “vocal purity,” period – a phenomenon primarily attributed to the growing trend of autotune. Autotune doesn’t really tick me off as it does most other people – there’s a time and a place for it – but it allows for very little performance flexibility, which usually then forces artists to constantly rely on MR and lipsynching whether or not they’re actually capable of singing the music live. Therefore, these trends foster an environment that doesn’t allow singers to show off what they can really do, which thus diminishes the musical value of K-pop as a whole and brings it to a point where you don’t even have to sing well live, because the MR will do all the work for you.

I loved SHINee’s appearance at The Muzit last month – partially because I love The Muzit, period, and partially because it was such a wonderful paradox. As a “contemporary” band (whatever that’s supposed to mean), SHINee’s music is very much up to date with the trends, but the fact that they’re able to keep up with these trends in their performances of “Lucifer” and then turn around and do a live band version of “Replay” on the same show really says a lot about the versatility of their ability.

Speaking of that perf of “Replay”…I absolutely adored this, and not just because I love the song. It’s not to say that SHINee’s the only band that’s done live band performances before…but a live band performance of their electronica-based promo single? Now that’s new.

Now about the Music Bank performance.

This was cool because yeah, TRAX is cool and SHINee is cool and the arrangement is hella cool, but what made it a step above any of SHINee’s previous “Lucifer” performances was the almost-total lack of vocal MR. It seems that the MR only included the band parts,with some mixed-in synth from the original recording.

But the main selling point was that the vocal MR was kept to a bare minimum, which gave the song a whole new transparency that we’ve yet to see in any K-pop performance as of late. Take in consideration the degree of difficulty  involved in performing the song live, and you’ll soon realize that performing this song with a new arrangement, live band, and little to no vocal backing is something to be commended in it of itself.

They didn’t stop there, though. Oh, no.

What really blew me away was their stage presence during this perf. One of SHINee’s greatest criticisms is that they have little personality – which, despite the counter-evidence provided by “Hello Baby” and selcas of Key jamming to Ke$ha in their company van, is fairly true in regards to their stage performance. They’re flawless, but oftentimes dry. With the notable exception of Jonghyun, it often seems like the members are just performing for the sake of performing. Their enthusiasm for performing seems produced.

But man. Throw in a new arrangement and a live band and all five members’ stage presence just shoots up three levels. I was getting so sick of “Lucifer,” and I still am, but this is the first time in a long time that I’ve actually enjoyed watching one of their performances of this song.

In my opinion, the biggest surprise was Minho. The kid has so much enthusiasm and passion for stuff he cares about – namely, sports. Just watch him in Dream Team – the energy he lacks on stage, he pours into competitive athletics. His passion for sports seems to be much greater than his passion for music – which is fine and all. Besides, it’s not as if the rest of the K-pop world hasn’t already resigned themselves to the fact that Minho’s usefulness as a member of SHINee is little to none. And, to some extent, I think Minho knows it, too. Maybe he’s okay with it – maybe performing was never his thing, anyway. His stage presence – or lack thereof – seems to be an accurate testimonial to this theory.

So I don’t really know what happened in this Music Bank performance, because um he tore the place up. Maybe it’s because they finally toned down the backing vocal during his rap break, thus giving him more freedom to add his own style. I’ve always thought that Key was a better rapper than Minho – Key doesn’t have a natural voice for rap, but he’s got style and skill and creativity. Comparatively speaking, Minho’s rapping is quieter and drier and oftentimes unoriginal, which would then lead to him being overshadowed by more loud and obnoxious voices (Key), thus forcing him into the background.

But as I listen to SHINee’s second album more and more, it becomes evident that Minho has gained quite a bit of confidence in his rapping. His rap breaks in “Shout Out” are fierce, strong, loud, and most importantly, full of character and energy. Take into consideration this recent performance, and it’s becoming evident that Minho is finally climbing out of his shell and developing real skill behind his rapping, while also injecting energy and enthusiasm into his performances.

The rapper oftentimes gets a ton of flack for being the “useless” member in a group, because hey, anyone can shout in rhythm, right? With Minho, however, I see the potential for his rapping to become a real art, paralleling that of dance or singing. I’ve heard that he’s written raps for certain SHINee songs before, and I’m really curious to know which ones because one’s efforts of being a “real rapper” are easily cheapened by simply rapping other people’s material.

Or maybe I’m just trying to justify Minho’s existence in SHINee because he’s my favorite but anyone with two ears and a conscience can see that he doesn’t have much to add to the group. Yet. He has yet to really shine, but I’m excited for when he does.

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  • Hi there!

    First off, I’m surprised this blog doesn’t have as many comments as it should, but I like how you’re going with the observations viewpoint regarding kpop. Often times, kpop can be viewed rather cynically (and with good reason), but it’d be interesting to see a continued development of analysis (something like Grand Narrative, which is a sociological study of South Korea by an expat, check it out if you haven’t).

    Second, I came here because I googled “Minho rapping,” but I just wanted to add some information that would be interesting regarding this particular post’s content.

    I recently went to SM Town LA, and you’re very right about how he has gained in confidence – he really let loose during all the songs he performed and rapped in, and it is a marked contrast from all the music show performances I’ve ever seen before. Actually, the overall quality of SHINee’s live performance for all their songs was astounding live, with tons of vitality, and very different from how they are when promoting on music shows – probably a side effect of kpop’s tendency to promote the same song for two months, three times a week, to death, so I think when you said “their attitude towards performing seems produced,” it’s more because they’re trying to survive that particular system, a huge necessary evil.

    However, when let free to do their own thing or to switch it up, SHINee is no joke when it comes to the genuineness of their performance, and they said it themselves during the Muzit episode that they greatly respect live bands and feel energized when doing so. They’ve only been around for 2 years, which is a bit of an eternity in kpop, but I’m personally encouraged to see the growth of all the members, but Minho the most.

    As for Minho writing raps, this is information I found from the credits:
    Minho wrote the raps in SHINee’s 2nd Album – Lucifer: Up & Down, Obsession, Wowowow, and Your Name; he also co-wrote Shout Out with his fellow members.

    He also wrote his parts of Get Down! which is from the Year of Us mini-album.

    For perspective, Jonghyun also wrote Juliette, Obsession, and Up and Down, while Onew wrote Your Name.

    Keep it up!

    • Patricia

      Thanks for your kind comments. I’m a huge fan of the Grand Narrative as well, and I’m glad you like the blog!

      Completely agree with your remarks; K-pop idols only promote a certain song for a short period of time but man do they beat that song to death in those three or four months. Artistically speaking, I think SHINee is maturing remarkably quickly (as evidenced by the members’ participation in composition by their second minialbum), and I’m really excited to see where they’ll be in the coming years.