Album Review #9: “Catch Me” – 동방신기
I feel like my reactions towards DBSK’s stuff are getting less and less visceral with every release. Remember how much pent-up rage I had when I first reviewed Keep Your Head Down? Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but I just don’t have the energy for that shit anymore.
Or maybe I just don’t have the energy to pick this awful WTFery apart. Because seriously. WTF is this music video. And WTF is that choreography. Just…WTF.
I mean, it helps that “Catch Me” isn’t a bad song outright. I like how SM’s been toning down their stuff lately; their recent electronica pieces are more slimmer-sounding and minimalist compared to the heavy-duty SMP of the past. Which is a good sign — while SMP worked great in the late 90s and early 2000s (aka back when Yoo Young-jin actually had fresh ideas), it sounds incredibly dated now.
Unfortunately, DBSK is just one of those groups who has their roots firmly planted in SMP, and even as a duo, they’ll probably be married to SMP for the rest of their careers. But it’s no secret that the SMP sound is somewhat outdated now, and in an industry where idol groups are expected to wear a different musical hat with every promotion, DBSK’s insistence on bulldozing forward with one SMP release after another seems kind of, well, desperate.
It makes me wonder if DBSK would have kept up the macho, almighty “Gods-of-the-East” act if they were still five — and yes, the “what if they were still five” is the biggest navel-gazing question of the century, but I think DBSK has existed as a duo for long enough for us to admit, point blank, that DBSK as it currently stands is not without significant weakness. This weakness is inherent to the structure of the group; DBSK the duo was completely the product of circumstance, and a lot of their work as a duo has consisted of figuring what works and what doesn’t, how to fill the holes, how to make the best of what they’ve got.
Individually, Yunho and Changmin are great and have improved by leaps and bounds ever since the break-up, but they are still lacking in ways for which no amount of hard work can ever compensate. The material that they can produce as a duo is thus limited, and it’s significantly more difficult for them to be the jack-of-all-trade idol performers that they are expected to be. Over-emphasizing the production value of their material is one way to compensate for DBSK’s weaknesses, which, truth be told, isn’t always a bad idea and succeeds in taking advantage of what is perhaps pop music’s greatest asset. But there is such a thing as going overboard and attempting to use production as a means of covering up, rather than complementing.
It’s kind of mind-boggling to try to explain why the production staff insists on adding all this shit (“this shit” being, you know…fur suits, ridiculous choreography, ugly hair….et cetera) to make DBSK look cool, when in fact DBSK is already cool without trying. I mean, Yunho and Changmin are really attractive people with above-average talent and good heads on their shoulders. They’ve spent their entire young adult lives proving how cool they are, and they’ve succeeded — so what’s the use in trying to prove something that everyone already knows? Even as a brand or entity, the name DBSK has proven itself to be cool and sexy. And DBSK has been around for almost 10 years — long enough for their take on “sexy” or “cool” to be understated, subtle, even cold.
And believe me! I’d give my left kidney to see DBSK adopt a low-profile career, where they can prove their coolness just by existing, because hey — I think they’re just that good. But it’s a lot less difficult and a lot less risky to play the same, tired game you’ve played for the past ten years instead, and continue to play it until the group burns out. It’s one of the biggest beefs I have with K-pop; everything has to be so flashy, so in, so cool — to the point where “cool” starts meaning the same thing to everyone, and there’s no exiting the cycle until you’re forced into retirement by the young’ins who are more nimble and more adept at playing the game.
As for the rest of the album, it’s pretty harmless. It’s a lot more low-profile than “Catch Me” (isn’t that what always happens? Pick the most obnoxious track to be the promo single so no one is even interested in checking out the rest of the album? How sad). I really like “Good Night” and “인생은 빛났다 (Viva)” — the former is R&B sexiness with a bulkier instrumental so as to balance out the heavy vocals, and the latter has that minimalist electronic sound that I really like. And truth be told, I don’t even find “Catch Me” to be too offensive a song; like I said, I like SM’s new, lighter take on pop electronica. “Catch Me” reminds me a lot of “Sexy, Free and Single” in that sense and if this is the musical direction that SM plans on taking for its boy groups, I have no real complaints.
But let’s be real, though — the prospect of watching DBSK perform this live (giant arm imagery! bedazzled sweatsuits! shadow dancing!) for the next eon or so is kind of depressing. Sigh. These poor dudes. D: