Dance is a quintessential part of K-pop, and we at Seoulbeats love to talk about dance in K-pop. We have had many discussions about what makes a good dancer and recently started adding best dances to our mid-year and year-end reviews. And yet so much remains to be discussed!
Playing a key part in making K-pop, well, K-pop, dance is incorporated in just about every single comeback. From debut, a group’s cohesion, precision and style of dance can make a huge difference in whether they make it in the ever-flooded market. Groups go on to grow and mature over time, and of course their ability and choreography transform, too.
As I’ve mentioned before, dance drew me into K-pop. Sure, there’s earworm-heavy music, talented vocalists, great style and so, so much more, but dance has always been my anchor, especially since I myself am a dancer, too. My love for K-pop may ebb and flow, but the dance is what’s keeping me firmly rooted in the fandom.
And so I wanted a segment to talk dance on the nitty-gritty fan level with my fellow SB writers (I can’t be the only one who freaks out over that one precise hand flip or a perfectly timed chest pop). And so the Seoulbeats Dance Exchange is born! And, hot on the heels of their wrapping up promotions for their repackaged album, what better place to start than with my first and all-time favorite group Shinee?
For this discussion on all things Shinee and dance, I have Gaya and Willis with me and can’t wait to hear what they have to say.
Leslie: On the male idol group spectrum, where do you think Shinee falls in terms of dance — toward the top, middle or bottom — and, more importantly, why?
Willis: I have always considered Shinee one of the best dancing groups in K-pop. As a unit, they are cohesive and work well together. Looking at them separately, they each convey movement with an individualistic flair — from Taemin‘s sharp execution to Key‘s excited, flourished steps.
As one of the premier dance groups, their choreography has pushed the limits with a high degree of difficulty. “Lucifer” had some of the most intricate choreography during its time. Shinee can claim one of the top tiers in the K-pop dance hierarchy because of their ability to instill personality into the difficult moves they are given. Their strength as dancers is apparent during their articulation of the choreography — you’ll see them fully immersed from their fancy footwork to their expressive facials.
But I do feel like all the praise laid upon Shinee’s slick moves has created an expectation for them to continually raise the bar. What we have been gradually seeing from the group post-Lucifer promotions is a shift in their choreography — from performances that were once more focused on precision, tight transitions and intriguing formations to a set that is heavier on tricks and high risk moves. While each style has their own merit, I do worry about the members sustaining injuries while performing the higher risk dance moves and question the long term viability of continuing with this style.
Gaya: It’s really interesting how, when you think about it, only two of Shinee’s members (Taemin and Key) are known for their dancing. Onew, Jonghyun and Minho are not natural dancers the way the other two are, but what they lack in talent they make up for with passion and dedication. You wouldn’t be able to notice any adverse discrepancies when the members perform together; even though, as Willis noted, each member has his own way of performing the choreography, they still work the dance as a cohesive unit, and ace it!
Of course, no group can achieve a reputation for dance without consistently good choreography: and Rino Nakasone‘s work with Shinee is a large part of the reason behind the group’s renown for dance. She both nurtured the members’ skills and teamwork with “Replay” and “Juliette” and challenged them to go further with the more complex “Love Like Oxygen” and “Lucifer.” Rino still works with Shinee in Japan, but I must admit I would absolutely love it if she would choreograph a Korean comeback for the group.
And I am completely with you, Willis, on the expectation placed on Shinee to be bigger and better with each new dance. I’m one of the people who holds on to that view, though the dance for “View” does make me appreciate the beauty of taking things more slowly. “View” is deceptive in that there are some demanding moves and formations, but it is performed in such a smooth and relaxed way that it almost feels like it’s too easy a dance for Shinee.
A lot of that perception, especially among newer fans like myself, can be credited to Tony Testa. He’s been working with the group since “Sherlock” and has helped to further their dance rep, to the point where we jokingly wonder if the members are actually robots.
As much as I adore “Sherlock,” I was worried that Shinee’s style would stagnate. As such, this comeback has put me at ease. “Married To The Music” sees Shinee interact so much with their backup dancers, something we have rarely seen from the group’s promotional dances. It’s my absolute favourite thing about this dance, seeing the members flit on and off stage as the dancers keep the space full.
What do you guys think of this latest dance? And Willis, what are your thoughts on Tony Testa? Anyone who follows me on Twitter and read Leslie’s Testa article would know what we think.
Willis: First of all, a Rino Nakasone choreography for a Shinee Korean comeback would be amazing. Her dance point of view is one of the ones I respect the most. Aside from that, “View” is a slight departure for the group. It was choreographed by Ian Eastwood, who also did “Danger,” Taemin’s solo. Ian Eastwood has a smoother style with little nuances here and there, and I agree that this style works perfectly for the song.
“Married to the Music” has its good moments. The backup dancers felt like extensions of Shinee on stage — helping to frame the members and ease the physical strain for the tougher tricks. However, I am on the fence about Tony Testa. He has a knack for creating memorable moments, but some of his other choreography falls flat. Instead of these flashier stunts, I would rather see a focus on tightening up some of the combinations instead.
Leslie: We all know how I feel about Tony Testa, but I’m going to go against expectations and say that I actually enjoyed “Married to the Music.” It’s not perfect, as it still makes abundance use of Testa’s characteristic — I like how you put it, Willis — flashy stunts, but it has enough intricacy to please me, particularly in the interaction with background dancers, as Gaya mentioned. I’d love to see more of Ian Eastwood after “View” and “Danger,” as his work and its fluidity make for a stylistic departure from their previous dances.
Still, Rino remains number one for me as far as working with Shinee. Her choreography is not only incredibly detailed, but it’s also just interesting to see how she hears music and creates these unique amazing steps to go with it, such as in “Love like Oxygen.” She definitely challenges Shinee, but it’s in skill not stamina, unlike Testa.
Hard question time: what’s your favorite choreography that Shinee has done? And why? Any runner-ups?
Willis: My favorite Shinee choreography has to be “Replay.” I still admire the groove in that dance. The boys do not miss a beat and the formations are intricate, often involving synchronized motions that provide interesting level changes among the members. It was an impressive debut — with dancing that has left a lasting impression on me even to this day.
One of my runner-ups is “Lucifer.” The Rino Nakasone and Shim Jae-won choreography is another one that sticks with you. For as difficult a dance “Lucifer” is, there are still moments in the choreography that any fan of the group can dance along with, and I appreciate that. I also have to give props to “View.” Each time I watch Shinee perform to this song, I find more nuances in the choreography that I had not noticed before.
Gaya: “Replay” is unbeatable, in my book. It’s nonstop movement, and it’s absolutely fluid! What’s more, Taemin’s dance solo manages to stand out without the need for an extended dance break — it’s a really short dance solo, but Rino and Taemin make the most of it.
And as harsh as I am on Testa, I cannot deny my love for “Sherlock.” That was my first Shinee comeback, and I was blown away by how powerful their performance was. “Sherlock” is an example of Shinee’s range and capability when it comes to dance. It’s not an extreme I want them to persist with, but it’s nice to see them rise to the challenge and excel.
Leslie: It’s funny to me that Shinee’s debut set the bar so high for them as a group, and in more than just dance. “Replay” is a great song, one of their best (if not the best), and Rino definitely did it justice with her fluid choreography. I love that you pointed out Taemin’s solo because I actually love its brevity — surprise, surprise, coming from a Taemint. The solo is a nice highlight but not its own entity, which works with the smoothness of the song and dance.
Despite how much I love “Replay,” it’s actually my runner up. I have to put “Love like Oxygen,” another Rino creation, at my number one spot. I’m not usually one for props, but in this case the chairs are so well-integrated into the choreography that it works. There is no fumbling for props from back-up dancers, no hiding them at the chorus, none of those obvious “I’m getting a prop now” moments because these chairs aren’t really props. They’re just as much the choreography as the formations or any step — even moving them around is part of the timing and steps.
Aside from the props, I think my favorite aspect is the way this choreography builds. It starts out so simple with a member or two moving here or there, a couple of formation switches, and then by the time of the pre-chorus, you don’t even realize it, but at some point they all started dancing together. That tied with Rino’s signature detail and style makes this my favorite.
Let’s talk musical style and exploration in conjunction with dance. Is there a type of music you’d like to see Shinee try just from a performance perspective?
Willis: I think it’s easier for me to think about what type of performance I would like Shinee to do and then subsequently the type of music it is associated with. In terms of performance styles I would be interested in seeing the group tackle, jazz, Latin, and swing come to mind. These styles would challenge Shinee while ideally giving them enough room to inject their individual personalities. Imagine Shinee doing partner work to a Latin or swing dance and integrating those genre specific sounds into a pop package — it might just start the next big trend!
Leslie: I don’t know how I feel about them doing partner work since awkwardness seems to color most partner performances in K-pop, but I definitely would love to see some upbeat jazz with quick footwork. I feel like Minho would really enjoy that for some reason.
I’d also love to see Shinee try something that leans toward the Latin side, specifically reggaeton though — I’m thinking something like Don Omar‘s “Danza Kuduro.” Give me some Taemin hips, and I can die happy.
Gaya: My standard response to this question, regardless of the group mentioned, will always be Dappan Koothu.
Leslie: Any final thoughts? Performances you’d like to mention? Random musings on a member’s way of dancing?
Gaya: Shinee isn’t a group full of amazing dancers, but the members work collaboratively to pull off amazing performances. And I think that’s the most important thing when promoting as a group.
Willis: One last mention — Shinee’s awesome performance of “Why So Serious?” and “Everybody” at the 23rd Seoul Music Awards. I can’t wait to see what Shinee does next and how they will continue to evolve in their dance journey.
Leslie: Gotta end with the performance that solidified Shinee as a dance group for me: “Sherlock (Remix)” at 2012 KBS Gayo Daejun — poor sound quality didn’t keep them from putting on an excellent performance.
And now, we turn the conversation to you, readers. What are your thoughts on Shinee as dancers?