K-pop Digest #1: “Dream Girl” — SHINee
If any of y’all were thinking that my lack of commentary regarding SHINee’s comeback was intentional, know that I am now slowly and tearfully eating my words from my last post. I’ve been keeping an eye on SHINee’s activities from the periphery, but I just haven’t had the time or energy to write about it as much as I’ve wanted to.
It’s currently 1am of the first official day of spring break — aka the first day in seven weeks that I haven’t found myself crying underneath a pile of schoolwork, dirty laundry, and crushed dreams — and because I’m finding it very difficult to English at the moment but still want to get this post out ASAP, here’s a relatively unorganized list of things I’ve noticed during this last round of promotions because that’s all I can really muster at the moment, I think.
(Sigh. I hate lists. School ruins everything.)
– This choreography is weirdly unimpressive, and I say “weirdly” because I think I’m in the vast minority of people who take issue with the dance in “Dream Girl” because I mean, you can’t really argue with the impressiveness that is mic stand acrobatics, particularly the fact that Onew somehow defies gravity with every performance and manages to spin an entire mic stand around his finger and has yet to screw it up. In fact, there’s a lot of places in this choreography where SHINee runs the risk of screwing up horribly, and the fact that they haven’t is commendable in itself.
But that’s beside the point. Compared to SHINee’s past dances, “Dream Girl” is constructed in a way that makes it really difficult for the members to keep up the energy level throughout the entire performance without having to ad-lib movements by themselves. There’s not a lot of movement going on in the background when each member is singing his solo line, though I suppose that this kinda makes sense because the individual members themselves are moving a lot during their solo lines and the stage would look too busy if the members in the back were doing a lot of big, crazy movements as well. And as much as I appreciate the energy and individuality expressed by each member when they’ve got the spotlight, it makes it that much easier for them to sink back into the dry mechanism of the group after singing their line and ‘check out’ for the rest of the performance. This recent perf at KBS Open Concert exemplifies this to a T; the broadcast shows them lipsynching (though considering the venue it’s highly possible that they just redubbed the audio in post production), but their performance here was distressingly lifeless for having only promoted this song for a month.
SHINee is a group that can pull off complicated choreography while still maintaining a high level of energy and performance charisma, but the “Dream Girl” choreography is both overly simplistic and doesn’t lend itself well to maintaining energy throughout a three-minute long performance. I can’t help but resent the fact that SM is constantly jizzing itself over working with Tony Testa, because it’s painfully obvious that Tony Testa doesn’t understand the unique dynamics and capabilities of each group he’s working with and choreographs based on his own tastes as well as some vague conception of the group’s capabilities in learning choreography quickly and accurately.
– “Dream Girl” itself, though, isn’t a bad song to use as a promotional single. Even though I spent a bajillion words ranting about the demerits of the choreography, there’s a campy, showtune-y quality about the live performances that makes it almost impossible to hate despite the fact that ti’s so obviously cheesy. It’s high energy all the way through — though not in the annoying, shouty way as seen in “Lucifer” — and it’s fresh sounding, especially considering how trend-heavy K-pop tends to be these days.
– I’ve already vomited 3000+ words about how great the “Dream Girl” music video was. Read it here.
– There are exactly three songs on the Dream Girl album that I can safely say that I love with no reservations: “Spoiler,” “Beautiful,” and “Dynamite.” The rest of the songs aren’t outrightly offensive, and there are definitely parts of each song that I love — the money chord in the chorus of “Punch Drunk Love,” for instance — but I agree with the general blogosphere consensus that the Dream Girl album is pretty forgettable and generic. I have some hopes for the follow-up album if only because “떠나지 못해” was so good. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that SM has figured out what kind of ballads suit SHINee best — minimalistic instrumentals, simple melody lines, easy on the drama. Songs like “Honesty” and “떠나지 못해” are fantastic examples of this. At the same time, however, a part of me still wishes that SHINee will go back to the R&B ballad sound that they had during their debut days (think “One For Me,” “Four Seasons”), but I think it’s also important to remember that SHINee circa 2008 relied very heavily on Onew and Jonghyun vocal-wise, and thus their vocal-heavy songs completely played to Onew and Jonghyun’s strengths. As Taemin, Key, and even Minho are growing into their voices, it’s apparent that they’re not well-suited to R&B. So you seek alternatives that work for everyone.
SHINee possesses a frustrating amount of vocal diversity in their group, and while some might find ballads like “Honesty” painfully boring, I think it’s the most suitable ballad style for SHINee to pursue right now given the maturity of the members’ voices right now. Taemin and Minho’s voices in particular are still very much works in progress, and time will probably tell when SHINee’s musical style will change again in order to accomodate how their voices will have grown by then.
– Speaking about Minho’s voice…well, to be fair, there’s really not much to say. I’m glad he can stay on pitch now? It’s really apparent that Minho’s probably been training like crazy since day 1 to get his vocals up to par (fun fact: most singers don’t ever “learn” vibrato; rather, it’s something that just happens from singing frequently for a long period of time), and maybe it’s kind of pathetic that it’s taken him five years to finally get more than half a line of singing on a SHINee ballad, but all the power to him for getting that far cultivating a talent that he obviously wasn’t born with. That said, though, I really wish he’d stop putting that dramatic break in his voice every time he sings a line. There’s not much of it in the recordings (and a part of me wants to think that it’s a result of a sound engineer getting so sick of Minho’s bad habit and bugging him to cut it out), but it’s all over the place during live perfs and it makes him sound really amateurish.
– On a similar note…Taemin can sing. We get it. Now make him stop wailing before he ruins his voice like Jonghyun.
– Not that I’m going to even pretend that I know the first thing about fashion, but I LOVE their styling for this round of promotions. I want everything they’re wearing in every performance. Yes, even Jonghyun’s fugly plaid pantsuits.
– SHINee’s variety show is probably the most boring variety show on the face of this earth and the MBC producers would be stupid to think that anyone is watching this apart from SHINee’s die-hard fans. SHINee has always been awful on camera, and this just proves it. The editing does little to save it (the entirety of episode 5, anyone?! Half of the MinKey business in that episode was all due to the cheeky, cleverly placed captions at the bottom of the screen whenever Minho and Key were screwing around on ice skates), and there’s really nothing that changes the fact that the show is nothing more than following five 20-something boys vacationing alone in various places. Vacationing alone. This is probably the first real vacation they’ve had since their trainee days and all we see is Onew playing in a swimming pool by himself. While everyone else is filming him. This is the saddest show ever.
– Following SHINee’s activities on the variety circuit is making me realize how much the variety circuit in Korea sucks now. I think the biggest variety gigs SHINee’s gotten (and probably will ever get) for this round of promos is Hello and Beatles Code, both of which are probably the biggest variety shows for idols at the moment and are also the WORST VARIETY SHOWS IN THE HISTORY OF EVERYTHING. I keep forgetting that Strong Heart is now a done deal, that Star King sucks even more than it used to suck, and that no one cares about shows like 1 Night 2 Days anymore. The only thing that can possibly remedy this is if all the SHINee members went on Running Man…but let’s not even pretend that Running Man is always at its worst when idols appear as guests on the show. Sigh. This is the price of spreading “Hallyu,” it seems. Is this what you want, people? Is it?!?!?!
– On a more positive note, SHINee’s appearance on Sketchbook was pretty solid. Not convinced that a live band performance of “Dream Girl” was really all that necessary (or yet another performance of “Sherlock,” for that matter; aren’t shows like Sketchbook and Chocolate meant to be the perfect stages to do nostalgia pieces?), but despite all my ambivalency about this comeback, my love for SHINee still runs strong if only because their live performance skills are unreal. Sketchbook‘s sound system is notoriously unforgiving during live performances, and SHINee was perfectly on point even despite of that. That kind of skill is something you can’t see just anywhere.