Welcome to this week’s Comments of the Week!

This week in music and idol news, we talked about changes in rookie group lineups, AJAX‘s debut MV, the addition of Dani to T-ara, the creation and maintenance of sound in K-pop, M.I.B‘s “Only Hard For Me,” Big Bang‘s “Monster,” JJ Project‘s debut album, After School in Japan, Crucial Star, Wonder Girls‘ “Like This,” why you should give rookies a second chance, Matoki Earthventure, whether f(x) is still looking for their function or has their math right, Korean Metal, 2AM‘s solo ventures, a discussion on Infinite, B.A.P, and Block B, B1A4‘s infidelity, and our K-pop wishes for the second half of this year.

Regarding dramas and fashion, we took a look at A Gentleman’s Dignity, I Do, I Do, and FUBU‘s rebirth and rebranding — and for socio-cultural topics, we talked about the timing of the Hallyu boom, K-pop by the numbers, what The Wanted may want with K-pop.

We certainly had a lot to say this week, but we weren’t the only ones — you all had a lot to say too!

These are five of our favorite comments from this week:

SamiSwanSion on “Like This” is the Perfect Way to Kick Off the Wonder Party:

I LOVED IT! The song is very much a shout out to the “bounce” (irony galore) music style developed heavily in the Dirty South (southern states in the US from eeeh Texas to not Florida, because Florida is just…different). It’s known for its heavy use of repetitive instrumentals and vocals, and is developed for the sheer enjoyment of a mass amount of people usually dishing up dancing instructions as the lyrics. It’s just feel good, have fun, let’s party music, and PERFECT for their comeback.

It’s also straight up hip-hop, and Wonder Girls have never really done that, they’ve done more hip-pop so when I heard that repetitive beat I was like “Ohum? Did I leave my BET playlist running on Pandora?” So that’s definitely a good reason as to why it might be grinding some people’s gears. It’s very much a free-form/American style of music, with a very small resemblance to K-pop.

So can I just say that I feel like JYP has an incredible obsession for Black American culture, and that I LOVE seeing that in K-pop? It really does do a great job at making me feel at home more in what I’m listening to. Because there are the idol rappers and actual rappers yes, and there is R&B but it doesn’t have, I guess…the nuances or the expressionism that it needs to not sound…generic or stale. Like you have to go farther back in hip-hop’s history (alliteration alert) to Run DMC and Aerosmith‘s “Walk this Way” or Queen Latifah‘s “Ladies First” to get a sense of what I’m talking about. Because before hip-hop was “hardcore” where nowadays everyone wants to be wanna-be gangsters and club-runners, it used to talk about friendship, about uniting people and races, about elevating social statuses, and not settling for less than you’re worth.

(Sidenote: it was used in the 90s to justly talk about the mistreatments of Blacks in the US and bring to light many social issues that just weren’t being talked about. And then afterwards a newer generation came with a chip on their shoulder and no real causes to carry so they kept all the tropes – the slang, the cursing, the beats – but not the purpose, and like JYP, the hip hop industry kind of hit – is still hitting – this slump of vapid, emo music with a lack substance.) ((Compare hip-hop organization Dungeon Family to Lil Wayne))

Sorry, I got sidetracked, back to the MV. I’ve never seen a crowd involved in an MV the way this one was, even if it was manufactured. Because K-pop is about idols being high – HIGH above the status quo. So seeing WG shed those ideals and actually interact  with their fans and just regular people not only says a lot about breaking down barriers in any culture (hey we really are just like you, we’re all human, let’s celebrate together!) but a lot about what they learned from their trip to America.

And I AGREE Salima. I DO love Lim now. I’ve hated her for a good year now but little things just keep happening ( the randomness of “Act Cool” even existing, her accent being identified as Hilary from Fresh Prince of Bel-air, the hilarity of her role on the WG movie on TeenNick) to make me not hate her. And this? This just broke the ice, in the first thirty seconds, where we see her just breakin’ it down like a happy little girl with her cute little pigtails. And that’s ANOTHER thing.

The Wonder Girls are YOUNG. And retro by definition is old, it’s classic, it takes a certain kind of personality to pull that off (hey Sunye, wassup girl?) so I think why it’s been so hard to like her is because Lim really is NOT retro, she is NOT vintage. She’s current, she’s 90’s generation, she’s punk. Same thing with Sohee too, a little bit. Yenny‘s been growing out of the retro concept for ages now, and looks much happier with a “woman of the twenty-first century taking charge of her life” kind of feel. Yubin just looked happy. She was just blissfully unaware that this was her job. Everyone was, and that’s what made this whole concept so much fun.

No hard to get outfits, no hard to learn dances, everything is just kind of there and available for anyone to get into. The look and feel of the whole video and the whole song perpetuates the idea that you should come as you are, no matter who you are, and enjoy! And isn’t that what music is? It’s a lot of other things, yes, but a “good time” is often a definition lost or misconstrued nowadays.

(One more thing: If JYP is smart, he’d translate that to English with a quickness and put it on their US album.)

linhee on After School: Counting on “Lady Luck” in Japan:

For some reason, it ticks me off when people go around saying that Jpop is made up of mostly “cute” songs. Sure, a lot of popular girl groups function with that, but not all. In all honestly, Jpop is very diverse and just because the popular/more attention grabbing songs are cute, shouldn’t let it define it’s whole genre. And it’s sad to think that the only thing people associate with Jpop is cute girls next door.

One another note, quite happy to know that Kahi is graduating. The direction the group was taking really wasn’t for her, and now she is free to do as she pleases. Though I do wonder what will happen to After School. Although they do have some popular and talented members, I wonder if it’s enough to fill in the gap.

gg on Of Bad Hair Days and Ceramic Mannequins: Big Bang’s “Monster”:

Um. This post doesn’t touch on the plot of the MV at all.

Towards the beginning of the video, we can see Ri/Dae/YB through a security camera, and in the bottom left corner you can see the words ‘Project Monster’. So Project Monster is the institution that’s holding them captive in that military facility. Anyone’s guess how long they’ve been there, but it’s long enough that they’ve been experimented on a lot. They’ve been given monstrous features, and maybe even powers/abilities. (They don’t use any, so probably not? Then again, I don’t think PM just messed around with them to make them look like monsters. Think Wolverine from X-Men.) When the video starts, it looks like the facility is being attacked from above (explosives, bullets). Two possibilities. The experiments/subjects tried to escape and PM itself is doing the attacking. Or PM is being attacked by an outside unknown, and in the confusion and chaos, the subjects escaped.

Okay, so now the subjects. Obviously at this point of the captivity/experiment, they’re all human-monster hybrids, but they can switch forms (at will?). There seem to be 3 “stages” or “levels”. Human, half human/half monster, full monster. (For example, GD‘s human form is GD with white-hair; TY’s human form is TY in the black leather bodysuit. GD’s half-half form is GD with red-hair and the horn; TY’s half-half form is TY with the huge shoulders. GD’s full monster form is GD with wild red hair, yellow eyes and make up; TY’s full monster form is the beast(ram?)-like TY.)

When the facility is destroyed, only GD survives and emerges into the outside world, finally free (although still broken/messed up; “I think…I’m sick, I think I’m sick”). (The fact that he’s the lone survivor and that he goes off on his own could be symbolic of GD’s upcoming solo activities this August.) And he wasn’t in “snowy mountains,” Seoulbeats. Obviously a length of time had passed. There’s even a city in the distance that (like the facility’s ruins) was completely buried in the snow, like there had been some apocalyptic weather disaster. Who knows how long GD remained trapped (possibly unconscious) before he got out. Days, weeks, months, years? Presumably his monster-half kept him alive whereas a normal human would’ve starved.

The deeper significance of (that I, as a fan, took away from) the song has to do with Big Bang and the media/public. The media/public made Big Bang out to be monsters. GD a ‘drug addict’ and Daesung a ‘murderer’. In the song, they are vulnerable and pleading. The whole world it seems is judging them, turning their backs on them, but each member has that ONE person in his live whom he needs to believe in him. Could be a family member, a friend, maybe even a girlfriend. (GD hinted in “Healing Camp” that he was in a relationship prior to his scandal, and that they broke it off during the scandal; it’s a possibility that she left him because of the scandal.) If that one person or group of persons (I don’t think they’re talking about fans, but about those people closest to them in their private lives) were to judge or abandon him like everyone else did, he would break. (Dae admitted to thinking about committing suicide. But he received strength from the other members, his family, his church and God.)

Two very interesting parts are GD and TOP as giants. We see Giant GD (in full-monster form) at the very beginning, restrained by wires in a boxed room that is almost too small to contain him. He tries to straighten, but he’s too confined. This could represent how GD (a “giant” of the music industry) feels tied down by the media/public (the wires), by their expectations and by the limitations placed on his artistic freedom. Project Monster is also the media/public, because they are the ones who portrayed him as the full-fledged monster we see crouched down in that too-small room.

Then there’s Giant TOP. Like GD, Giant TOP is in full-monster form. His face is split in two halves. An inky black half, and a normal half. At his feet, small and blink-and-you-miss-it, there’s a woman in white. TOP looks down sadly at her. He wants to be with her, but being such a big celebrity/idol (a giant) he can’t be with her in a normal relationship. And even if he could, he’d feel incapable of showing her his true self (b/c of the split face). (Another significance of that duality could have to do with balancing being an artist and an actor. He also struggles with showing his true personality on stage; that is, he insists on being a completely different person on stage than he is off-stage. He mentioned in an interview that he stresses about that a lot.)

Another interesting point of the MV is that as humans, they don’t speak/sing. It’s only their half-half or full-monster forms that speak. This to me suggests that their human forms are so broken and weakened that they’ve lost their ability or will to speak. If you notice, their human forms always look very lost, powerless and vulnerable, whereas in their other forms they have more strength despite their sinister appearance. During the scandals, GD and Dae (like their human forms in the MV) were broken, vulnerable and powerless; they had no ‘voice’. They went into hiding and couldn’t speak for themselves the whole time they were on hiatus (~reflection period). When they came together as Big Bang and made a comeback, even though many people were still against them (the “monsters”), GD and Dae were finally able to communicate (to have a voice) with the media/public/fans through interviews and appearances in several programs and, of course, through their new music.

This is what I took away from it anyway…

straighttohelvetica on Matoki Earthventure: Another Way for B.A.P to Invade Your Life:

While it’s possible I’ve seriously over thought this whole thing, I think the creation of the B.A.P. bunnies was a great idea and one that can ultimately benefit the members. One thing we always complain about on this site is how idols are packaged and sold as goods. From their voices in songs to their images in photobooks, posters, etc. With the bunnies, TS has taken aspects of the members personalities and commodified them specifically for marketing purposes. So, like Ambika said, TS can go and sell bunny plushies, stickers, t-shirts, etc. while the actual members themselves can remain distanced from that aspect of the promotions.

I think that distance might help create a sort of emotional barrier between the idols and the fans that current practices don’t allow. Other companies have the same opportunity for product sales (the keychains and personalized gear), they just use the actual idols’ images instead of a cartoon stand-in. When the members themselves are presented as the marketing product, the distinction between the idol and their marketed image can get lost. A fan who has SHINee socks or school supplies with the boys actual faces on them may forget that “Idol” Onew and Lee Jinki are two different people, whereas it’s much harder to confuse Shishimato with Yong-guk.

Even better, TS doesn’t have to worry about overworking or travel logistics with the bunnies. The bunnies can “appear” on television commercials, TV segments, print ads, etc. while B.A.P. perform, work on new songs, rest or whatever.

(Or, like I said I may have completely over thought the whole thing and TS will continue to promote the bunnies AND the actual members. This is at least, I think, a very creative way of giving fans parts of the idols they can “own” while providing the members with a sort of protective shield from the more dehumanizing aspects of marketing.)

Xinran on SB Chat Box #24: Giving Infinite, Block B, and BAP some love:

Taeil doesn’t get a lot of lines in the promoted tracks; but he gets the opportunity to shine in the other non-promoted ones, including the recently released ost called ‘burn out’. I suppose it’s a better idea to showcase/reinforce the hip hop image of the group through the rappers than the singers, especially since the rappers are the ones who bring out the stage presence in live performances. Although Taeil specializes in ballads (or used to when he was an underground performer), he fits the role of vocalist in a hip hop group because his kind of voice is really good for rnb as well, which Block B has explored in other tracks.

The original Block B line-up would have been a killer combo, that’s for sure, and I wish that was the group that debuted. The only downside I can think of is that the vocal department may not be as strong as the current one since Hanhae is not as great of a vocalist as Taeil is. Although he’s a decent rapper/ singer and has experience in songwriting/producing, he just doesn’t have as much range, control and expressiveness in his singing. The original line-up could possibly also get a lot more bashing for being big bang copycats though; they would have the same no. of members as big bang and I can just imagine people going on about how Hanhae is a daesung rip-off (on top of the accusation that zico&mino are gd&top wannabes) given that they have the same kind of tone to their voices and that they look a little similar as well lol.

Having said that, I don’t think the current group is that much worse off. First off, there’s no one in there who doesn’t contribute i.e. can’t sing, rap or dance and is only there for show. I initially thought Jaehyo, being the resident ulzzang of the group, wouldn’t be good for anything else, but he’s actually a competent singer/ backup for taeil and can hold his own both on tracks and in live performances.  Besides being a dancer, ukwon has a pretty unique voice in the group and offers some contrast and diversity in the songs that the group has put out. P.O executes his raps well most of the time, but he hasn’t done much writing except for his rap parts in Tritop‘s song and the ‘burn out’ ost (which I think is good effort from him) so I’ll see if he can prove his value to the team in the future (and no, having ‘swag’ and a sexy deep voice does not count -.-). Minhyuk is the one I’m not so sure about; he’s definitely a good dancer, but I would like to hear him sing more because after stumbling upon one of his live duets with ukwon, I’ve realized that he actually has a good voice to work with. These guys are skilled/talented in their respective areas but unfortunately are ‘deadweights’ relative to the powerhouses of the group. However, I do appreciate the fact that they make a lot of effort to bridge the gap and so far the results have been significant.

That’s it for this week! Thanks for being such great commenters!

As always, feel free to leave additional comments below.

(JYP Entertainment, Pledis Entertainment, YG Entertainment, TS Entertainment, Brand New Stardom)