For all the flack I’ve been giving Super Junior-M‘s latest song, I actually really enjoyed the album on the whole. You can put your pitchforks down now.
When SJ-M released “Super Girl” in 2009, I was impressed. I was beyond impressed. For one, I was impressed with the fact that SM was taking this group seriously enough to give them original songs, rather than Chinese remakes of Super Junior’s Korean songs. And I was impressed that these original songs were actually good. Now granted, I wasn’t too crazy over the B-side tracks on the album, but “Super Girl” left stars in my eyes. Personally, my perception of a group is easily swayed once they impress me with one ‘it’ song. The sheer quality of “Super Girl” was reason enough for me to go totally gaga over Super Junior-M and for that, I guess it’s probably a little unfair of me to react so adversely when I’m presented with an inferior follow-up product. Because let’s face it: “Super Girl” was the better song. It had a stronger song form, it flowed more smoothly, it was more musically complex. “Perfection” isn’t bad, but in terms of quality and complexity, it just doesn’t measure up. Oh well. What can you do.
A similar thing happened when the main group came out with “Bonamana” last year. “Sorry Sorry” was the “it” song that tuned me in to Super Junior, and, to the rest of the K-pop world, it was the song that put Super Junior on the map as a group that, you know, actually made good music. And when we see one good thing, we expect the next thing to be better.
So when I first heard “Bonamana,” my initial reaction was, “What happened to ‘Sorry Sorry’? Why does this sound like ‘Chacarron Macarron’? What is “side to you side to you” supposed to mean? Can everyone please button up their shirts? Omg I’m leaving. *tear*”
My initial reaction to “Perfection” was essentially the same – just replace “Chacarron Macarron” with “Eat You Up”; “side to you” with “let me show you my bling bling”; and “button up their shirts” with “burn those fur hats”. In both cases, I was disappointed. But despite the fact that (for the sake of my self-respect and musical snobbishness) I vowed to myself to hate “Bonamana” forever and ever, the song nonetheless grew on me. And “Perfection” is beginning to grow on me in the same way. Not sure why. Aural Stockholm syndrome, maybe.
The thing that sets apart Perfection from Bonamana is that, despite the title track’s inferiority to its predecessor, the rest of the album is really good. Like, if you took Super Girl‘s B-side tracks and compared them with Perfection‘s B-side tracks, Perfection would win, hands down. I wasn’t terribly impressed by Super Girl‘s B-side showings mainly because the two tracks composed by Kenzie and E-Tribe…they weren’t Kenzie/E-Tribe quality. All in all, there was too much bubblegum/C-pop emulation and none of the songs (save for the title track) really fit with the album concept. And I hate it when that happens.
But this is a Perfection review, not a Super Girl review. So moving on.
1. THE ALBUM.
The thing with mini-albums is that there needs to be musical variety, but every song also needs to be securely anchored with one main concept or idea – even more so than its full-length counterpart. With a full-length album, the artists and producers are allowed and encouraged to display a wide spectrum of musical moods and tones because a full length album isn’t usually meant to be taken in all at once. Rather, a full-length album should serve as a testament to an artist’s versatility and range. You can show off whatever you want through a full-length album, because the structure of the album can be much looser.
Not so with a mini-album or EP. Mini-albums are often meant to be digested in one short, concentrated shot, and because an minialbum can hold a listener’s attention for 20-30 minutes at a time, it needs to give the listener a ~musical experience~. The theme or “concept” of the minialbum needs to be evident and strong in order to maintain a focused listening experience. The main problem with Super Girl was that the musical themes were just all over the place. “Blue Tomorrow” was a super mellow ballad, while “Confession” was sugary bubblegum pop. “You and Me” was lazy and mellow, while “Super Girl” was hyperactive and practically sucker-punched the bass beats into your face. Variety is good, but if there’s no defined point of focus, then you don’t got a minialbum. You have a mixtape – and you don’t sell those for $10.99 a pop on YesAsia.
On the other hand, you can’t have six of the same type of song and call it a minialbum either. Big Bang’s latest mini is a good example of this – practically everything on there was a dance track, and while one song might have been really good, it’s hard to tell since you have five other similar tracks competing against it.
Minialbums are probably the banes of every K-pop consumer’s existence, because no matter how you look at it, seven songs for eleven bucks is a ludicrous trade-off. But despite their inherent nature as money-sucking leeches, minialbums are difficult to produce well. Today’s K-pop consumer culture is centered so heavily upon the minialbum, but it’s rare to find a minialbum that is actually done right. That’s why I have so much respect for Perfection – it’s clear that a lot of thought went into putting this mini together, and in a world where entertainment companies are just focused on putting out song after song in order to maintain listener loyalty, SM deserves definite props for their work here.
(Of course, roping in Jay Chou to compose one of the tracks is also a big sign that SM put a lot of effort into this album, but it’s my review: I emphasize the points that I wanna emphasize. Hmph.)
1. “太完美 (Perfection)”
I didn’t like this song the moment I heard it, and it’s difficult to convince me otherwise once I’ve had such a negative first impression of a song. My main problem with “Perfection” is that it follows in the footsteps of “Why? (Keep Your Head Down)” and “Lucifer” for having a very weak song form. The members’ vocal skills are not exhibited in any way save for some ill-fitting ad libs and Zhoumi’s bridge (which I was genuinely impressed with, admittedly). Also, I did not appreciate the rap. Never mind the fact that Henry sounded completely unenthusiastic by the time he finished his lines. Super Junior-M has traditionally featured very little rap in their songs, and it’s worked just fine until now. I get the feeling that they just stuck in a rap break just so Eunhyuk could do something.
I’m really hoping that “Perfection” will pull a “Lucifer” or “Bonamana” with me because upon closer listen, “Perfection” is an interesting song to listen to – but like I mentioned in my Why? review, many interesting songs are oftentimes noisy and atonal, and it takes ears of steel to look past the noisiness and examine the complexity of the song to its fullest extent. It just frustrates me that this musical complexity is only evident in ways that can’t be easily seen, because “Perfection” is very boring to listen to on a superficial level – and unless you have the time and patience to pick through the intricacies in the instrumental track, then the song’s superficial boringness is all you’re gonna get.
2. “命運線 (Destiny)”
It’s not a K-pop album without a ballad, but I’m so glad that they picked a ballad that meshes well with the rest of the album. “Destiny” looks like the “Blue Tomorrow” equivalent for this album, but the pacing of the song and the brisk beats keep it away from overdramatic, turtle-slow ballad territory that has killed many an album. I don’t think it’s the most original song in the world, but its role in the album is well-placed, and I can appreciate that.
3. “幸福微甜 (Love Is Sweet)”
Ah, the one everyone’s been waiting for: the Jay Chou Song.
I haven’t listened to a lot of Jay Chou (shame on me and my Taiwanese roots), so I can’t fairly evaluate his efforts in this song, but it sounds good. The background beat of the song is soooooo corny, but in a way, it kind of makes the song. The vocal lines in the song are so smooth and melodious that without a brisk beat behind it, the song will drag. And if the song drags, then it doesn’t fit with the ‘brisk’ mood of the whole album.
Once again, I’m peeved at the rapping. It’s similar to Minho’s rap in SHINee’s “One” from their Lucifer repackage. It doesn’t jive with the song. And I don’t want to be one of those annoying naysayers who hates the idea of Sungmin and Eunhyuk being in the group…but seriously, if Eunhyuk’s only purpose in the group is to add raps where they don’t belong, then I want him out. :(
4. “表白 (Off My Mind)”
THIS SOUNDS LIKE A JONAS BROTHERS SONG.
There. I said it. I feel like I shouldn’t be throwing such an ~insult~ at this song because Henry’s my favorite in the group and goodness knows he hasn’t had enough exposure in any of SJ-M’s previous songs. But seriously dude – Justin Bieber’s “Baby” at Super Show 3…and now this? I’m a little surprised that Henry wrote, composed, and performed this song all himself considering his relatively low profile until now. And props to him for his work – but as much as I love him, there’s just something about this song that doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s the weird change in meter during the chorus, maybe it’s the fact that the Chinese lyrics are as corny as the English ones, or maybe it’s because it just sounds so American and so un-Kpoppish that it’s throwing me for a bit of a loop.
Oh whatever. Who cares; he’s cute.
5. “True Love”
Alas, every album needs to have one dark spot.
I don’t know what it is with SM and their insistence on putting at least one bubblegum pop track on every single one of Super Junior’s albums, because a) the songs are never good, and b) almost all of the members are too old for this kind of nonsense. To speak of the main group for a moment, it seems like these songs completely fit Super Junior’s image as a cheerful, silly group…but at the same time, they completely go against Suju’s suit-wearing, spy-drama-acting, controversy-causing, army-serving image. That’s a topic for another discussion. But in terms of Super Junior-M, these bubblegum pop songs don’t fit them at all – just look at the members’ personalities. The beat featured in “True Love” works with the rest of the album, but the tone of the song does not.
6. “吹一樣的風 (My All Is In You)”
I like this.
The lyrics are beautiful, and the song has that chilled-out vibe about it without being too relaxed. And – all together now – it fits with the rest of the album. That alone is enough to make me happy, because these kinds of ‘chilled out’ songs can oftentimes just sound lazy and slow. (Big Bang’s “Cafe” was guilty of this. *ducks*)
But what really impressed me about this song is that the background instrumental doesn’t accomodate the vocal line at all…but it still works. This is especially evident at the beginning of the song, when it sounds as if the piano is weaving around the vocals. It makes the song sound very fluid. The beat isn’t too original, but the piano and strings soften the song. Also, listen to the chorus harmonies. I said LISTEN TO THEM! It’s like walking on clouds.
2. THE MUSIC VIDEO.
…And this is where you lost me, SM. Ugh, this has got to be THE laziest music video SM has produced to date.
I’ve learned to stop expecting originality from SM videos, seeing as they’ve used the same formula in almost every single one of their music videos since Day 0 – but did everyone in SM’s creative staff take a vacation when they produced this video?
Despite all the flack I’ve given the song for being so definably mediocre, I was thiiiiiis close to really liking the music video. The choreography is great, the boys are beautiful (yes, even Zhoumi with his fur hat, pink bow, and bad dye job), and the camerawork is jerky and violent, yes – but all the cuts and jerks fall perfectly in line with the music so that the music appears to be directly prompting the camera movements. That’s really what you’re going for when you’re shooting a dance-centric video, and this video does a really good job in this area – I was especially impressed with the camerawork from the rap break on – but nonetheless….I shouldn’t have to take a Dramamine before watching this video in order to my internal equilibrium from going haywire.
That, and the fact that this video basically consists of nothing more than two different (and recycled!) sets, six different angles, and one obligatory flow-mo shot just kills it for me. Everything else about the video is just fine – the sets were sparse but well-lit; the camerawork was well-executed; the styling was great – fur hats and all. But these things should be considered norms within an industry that’s as aesthetics-centric as K-pop. In this sense, I suppose that the video for “Perfection” exemplifies the aesthetic strength of K-pop quite well…but K-pop dies into a big puddle of marshmallow poop if there’s no creative structure to hold it up. Of course, it takes time to come up with a good concept storyline and weave it into the essence of the song and the video. But how bare bones can youget, SM? Give me a cheesy storyline shot, give me some emotional variety – just give me something!
But alas, we got another flow-mo shot instead.
Understandably, it’s not like Super Junior-M is as mainstream as SM’s other principal groups, but the fact that SJ-M is coming back from a huge period of transition is enough reason for investment. I made this point when I discussed HoMin’s comeback and I’mma apply it here: if a company loses an asset and, in turn, loses fan support, the company’s got to work even harder to prove that they can work just fine – if not even better – despite the losses. SM attempted to convey this message when they designed HoMin’s comeback concept, but the payoff wasn’t nearly substantial enough. Now, with what’s been evidenced by the “Perfection” MV, it’s like they didn’t even try. Which really surprised me considering the obvious amount of work that went into preparing the minialbum. SM, I am boggled – and disappointed.
The whole subgroup thing in K-pop has always caused me to raise an eyebrow, because it’s an indication to me that the management may have made a mistake when putting the original group together. However, I’ve always viewed Super Junior a bit differently in this regard, because when you’ve a group with 13 members, it’s in the marketing team’s best interest to expand their audiences. And doing the sub-group thing is an effective way to do so.
SM has been pouring a lot of time and resources into Super Junior-M and for good reason: it’s Super Junior’s primary gateway into the Mandopop market, which is the primary arena for Super Junior’s overseas activities. When Hangeng left the group, it was obviously a cause for concern: many had believed that SJ-M was done for good, and with that, Super Junior’s foray into the Chinese and Taiwanese markets would trundle to a halt. But because SM is SM, Super Junior-M came back with a product that was good in many ways – and careless in others. An easy way to determine a company’s investment in an artist is through the quality of his/her music videos. Music videos have become an important device to increase mass exposure to your artists because a) they’re pretty, and b) you get to listen to the song for free while you’re at it. Music videos are like expensive advertisements.
So which advertisement is more compelling: the Old Spice Man commercial, or the “HeadOn: Apply Directly To The Forehead” commercial? Music videos are the same way: the quality of the music video heavily affects one’s perception of the quality of the artist. It just doesn’t make sense that Perfection is an Old Spice product with a HeadOn commercial. But I’m not SM, so I can’t begin to guess the reasons behind this glaring discrepancy.
Oh, and also this thing with Eunhyuk and Sungmin being in the group: I didn’t have a huge problem with it until I saw that Sungmin had five seconds of MV screentime and Eunhyuk does, like, nothing for the group. The group is vocally strong enough as is, and SJ-M’s dances are already so regimented and sharp that I doubt the addition of Eunhyuk and his pwnzr dance skills will make much of a difference. I generally like Eunhyuk and Sungmin, but it’s distracting to see two things that just don’t seem to belong – no matter how pretty they are.
What’s of greater concern is SM’s supposed plan to rotate Super Junior members through SJ-M as time passes. There’s a reason why rotating groups never really work out in K-pop. Firstly, the fans usually go nuts. Secondly, the thing about K-pop is that K-pop group members oftentimes depend on each other in order to succeed. A truly well-rounded K-pop artist is hard to find, so entertainment companies put together these groups where one member’s specialty can make up for another member’s weakness. And with this codependence comes a certain group dynamic that only develops through time and experience. Change the members, and you’ll weaken that group dynamic. Just look at DBSK and JYJ.
The fact of the matter is, Super Junior-M’s future is still rather nebulous because it still looks like SM is playing around with the group and seeing what works. For an album that was released after some serious drama and group restructuring, Perfection is an impressive work and gets a 4.5 out of 5 from me. But the duality between the quality of the album and the quality of the music video really makes me question the stability of SM’s plans with SJ-M.
(Partially adapted from callmepatricia.com)