Stuff I listened to this year; aka, music of 2009

Time for an end-of-year post. In addition to the music post, which I also did last year, I’ll also be doing a drama post because…I watched a lot of dramas :Db

Favorite albums of the year:

Eternal Morning’s “Soundtrack to a Lost Film” – This album was released in 2007, but I’ve only gotten around to loving it this year. The pieces make me feel like I’m wandering around, submerged under water. Everything looks illuminated, but hazy too, so I don’t know what I’m looking at, yet I want to keep looking. This album makes me feel a jumble of things, but most importantly, it makes me wish I could set every single song to moving image so as to truly make it a soundtrack.

Kanye West’s “808 and Heartbreak” – I like this album better than anything he’s ever done. Yeah, it’s a mystery to me too. But the short of it is that I’ve always been wary of Kanye West because he samples SO much and this album is 80% refreshing and new. “Love Lockdown” is one of my favorite songs ever.

Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry” – I basically talk about this album ad nauseum in the rest of my favorite song review, so read the ramble after the jump!

The Bird and the Bee’s “Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future” – Delightful new find of the year. Their sounds are really whimsical and I love the lead singer’s voice because it sounds so clear. If The Bird and the Bee’s music were a person, it’d be a person who’s good at pushing away pangs of disappointment and loneliness when he/she has to deal with the rest of society. But hey, being sad is still being sad, and I feel the album does dip into more melancholy territory in the second half.

Epik High’s “Map the Soul” – Tablo’s writing never strikes me as pretentious even though I can see how it can come across like that to other people. He’s very sharp with his words and his music (as well as Epik High’s music) reflects that aspect of him, along with the qualities he admires in other musicians.

This is “Cipher” from the album.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I will NEVER forget the atmosphere in Irving Plaza when Tablo jumped on stage to sing this first line. I can see is so clearly in my head: Beatbox DG does about 5 minutes of beat boxing and then he signals the start of the “Cipher” performance and the crowd goes crazy. Tablo speaks into the mic from backstage and the cheers get even louder. We were all anticipating, but even that is not enough to describe the mood of the audience. Even watching fancams now, my heart still pounds in anticipation of Tablo jumping on stage and whipping the audience with water as he raps his first line.

Favorite songs of the year:

My favorite songs of the year I’ll list in order of release date.

So Nyeo Shi Dae’s “Gee” (January)

To be honest, I really hate this song in its original form. I only started liking this song after I heard Soreagroup’s traditional rendition of it. I think this song has a lot of merit as a genuinely good song, but the persistent irony of Kpop is that if it didn’t try to be so catchy, so fantastic, so elastic, so powerful, so mainstream, so “in,” its music would be so much better. I think a watered down, de-popified, mellowed-out version of “Gee” is just lovely, as you can listen here:

  • Super Junior’s version on Music Travel La La La

  • IU’s version on Sketchbook
  • Younha’s cover on Music Travel La La La
  • SNSD’s jazz and rock version on Music Travel La La La
  • Wheesung/Craig David’s “Insomnia” (Feburary)

    This is really an old song, but I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it til Wheesung was asked to cover it. I was obsessed with this song for a good while, and I love the way Wheesung sings it, so… win? (Also, here’s Ryeowook’s cover and Jonghyun’s cover on Sukira and 1000 Songs Recording.)

    This is my favorite performance of the song, when he was a guest on Lee Hana’s “Peppermint.”

    Dong Bang Shin Ki’s “Survivor” (February)

    When the video came out for this song, I thought it was a joke. But the performances convinced me that this will become one of my most loved DBSK songs, and I really can’t find someone who’s as enthused about this song as I am, lol. I like this song because it’s dynamic as hell. Right from the start, BAM. And then Junsu’s first line is just killer. His first line is the reason why I’m so gripped by this song (just like I am with Jonghyun’s first line in “Ring Ding Dong”). It sets the mood and how well Junsu sings this first line determines how the rest of the performance is going to flow.

    And I like this song because even though it’s got really ridiculous choreography, this song is vocally intense to sing, and to be able to do it well while dancing correctly is a feat. By now, I’m not surprised at DBSK’s capabilities to perform well live, but I feel “Survivor” is evidence of those capabilities.

    Here’s my favorite performance of “Survivor,” from their Tokyo Dome concert. This is the NINETEENTH song on their setlist at the Dome. NINETEENTH, and they sound just as good as if it were their first. Props, man, props.

    Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry (R&B/Answer vers.)” (March/December)

    For consistency’s sake, let’s just say this song came out in March (the original did), but the original version is not what I like, it’s the remix versions. The R&B version made me see “Sorry, Sorry” in a whole new light, and my argument about Kpop trying way too hard (see argument for “Gee”) is also valid here. I was really excited for this song because the teaser looked too good to be true, and then the song came out and I felt that it was so repetitive and anticlimactic. There was so much autotune and busyness in the song and I was disappointed.

    It wasn’t until when I heard the non-poppy versions of the song (SNSD’s acoustic version) that I became hooked. I don’t dislike the original version of SS as much as I did Gee, but for a good part of the year, I was excited about it because everyone else was excited about it, and SS truly became a meme in that way. But I don’t feel that there was any depth to the song. There is so much layering in the remix version, many highs and lows, push and pulls. The R&B version is so seductive, for the lack of a better word. I LOVE that about this version because the song instantly got a makeover through the remix. It got more mature and more sophisticated, which is something that the original tried to be, but maturity and sophistication are not things you can be by just putting on a suit or donning leather gloves.

    I think the music video does a *terrible* job illustrating the mood of the song, but whatever, I can live with this song pretending like the video doesn’t exist.

    Super Junior’s “Norago” (May)

    Favorite song of the year, yo.

    And this is why Super Junior is my most listened to artist this year. A year ago I would’ve never thought this was possible because I’ve always tolerated SJ for the entertainment they provide, and never for the “music” they perform. For fans, this is the album that justifies Super Junior as influential Kpop artists; for doubters, this is the album that makes you reconsider their validity as influential Kpop artists.

    I didn’t think SM could pull something like this for a repackage album, but this song is so much better than what I expected. E-Tribe has really done wonders for SM this year, and Norago is just that good. The lyrics are so pretty, and it’s got the kind of sound that I really like in a dance track. It has a heavy mood, but it also has a quick and steady beat so that it avoids the “ballad” territory. It has good choreography, and it utilizes the best of each member’s assets as performers. It made the people like Hangeng, Eunhyuk, Shindong, Heechul — people who rarely sing — sound very into the song. It made me LOVE Eunhyuk as a dancer, and last but not least, it was the last we ever saw of Kibum.

    I love everything about this song. There really isn’t anything I’d change about it. ♡

    TOP & Taeyang’s “Friend” (June)

    My summer of 09 was defined by two songs: the song below, and this song from TOP & Taeyang.

    I had major doubts the first time I heard this song because it never even crossed my mind how a TOP/Taeyang collab would sound. I didn’t like it too much during the first go around but as I loved it more and more as I listened to it on repeat. God bless Taeyang for being the kind of singer that makes you change your mind about songs.

    There’s something about this song that sounds so cool and laidback, and it makes me want to watch the drama immediately. There’s something wistful about the mood, but also assertive and hopeful, which the lyrics kind of show. (Read them here.)

    Kyuhyun’s “7 Years of Love” (June/July)

    Omg, what can I even say about this song. You know how some people are so good at what they do that you think it’d be a damn shame if the world never knew about it? Like Tablo as a writer, BoA at performing, Junsu at singing, Hyoyeon at dancing, Tasha at rapping?

    Kyuhyun’s one of those people who I truly believe that if they weren’t doing what they were doing, and if there weren’t an audience for what they did, the world would be missing out on something great. It’s pointless for me to reiterate what it is exactly about Kyuhyun’s voice that is so appealing to me, but this song is so much lovelier because he’s singing it. Even if you don’t know what the song is about or what the lyrics say, if the singer tell you a story through his singing, then he’s done his job.

    Super Junior M’s Super Girl (September)

    There is an EMBARRASSING amount of Super Junior on this list, y’all.

    I was so excited about this song, but in retrospect, the song failed at having coherent Chinese lyrics, and had a bad video. So… what do I like about it? I like that this is the first SJM song that isn’t a Chinese cover of an already popular Korean song. I wasn’t expecting Yoo Young Jin to do a lot for this subgroup, but I’m glad he did take this group seriously. The song is catchy, it’s got great choreography, and has a great climax. I hated “Sorry, Sorry” because it had no bridge.

    Again, Kyuhyun totally makes this song, and SJM is what made me like Ryeowook so much, so SJM is win in my book.

    SHINee’s Ring Ding Dong (October)

    This is the best example of a song you’d love to hate and hate to love. I was so embarrassed for them when I first heard the track name and I mean, a “Ring Ding Dong” on top of already being named “SHINee”?????? But this song single-handedly got me back into SHINee and my love for them had been quickly waning due to a lack of interest in their Juliette promotional period.

    A good promotional song is key to my enjoyment of a Kpop group. If you have a bad promo song, I’m less inclined to want to see you perform, and I like my Kpop artists first and foremost to be good performers. I totally get a kick out of watching idols being interesting entertainers, but for me to be loyal to any group, I have to like them as performers first. I think you learn a lot about an idol through observing them perform on stage, even if it’s always the same song for the same duration of time within a certain promotion period. Whether or not they amp up their usual personalities while they’re on stage is another thing, but a good part of how they are as people are usually showcased when they perform.

    I think “Ring Ding Dong” is a really strong song, albeit the somewhat annoying title name and repetitive chorus. It’s a song that forces the group to be stronger singers than they were previously. Taemin was the second weakest in the group and RDD pushed him, and he’s getting in ways that I totally did not foresee. Minho is TERRIBLE but even he’s getting a little better, albeit not as fast as Taemin is. (DO I FEEL LIKE A MOM WATCHING HER KIDDIES OR WHAT.)

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Compared to last year, I listened to less of a variety of music this year. I did step out of mainstream Kpop for a while because I was really sick of it. And to an extent, I’m still really sick of it, but I can’t help but be very much active in the Kpop fandom. It’s like when you know that you shouldn’t pick at a scab, but you do it because you want to test the limits of your skin to not bleed when you peel the scab, but in the end you bleed anyway and get a new scab to replace the old. It’s a losing battle, and a self-imposed battle from the start.

    But I think one good thing that came out of this is that I did step away from mainstream pop for a while and listened to other things. Discovering new music is a learning process for me, and it serves as a good distraction.

    • melissa

      your comparison of k-pop to scabs is spot on.

    • f

      but the persistent irony of Kpop is that if it didn’t try to be so catchy, so fantastic, so elastic, so powerful, so mainstream, so “in,” its music would be so much better
      You’ve summed it up so well. I really get tired of kpop trying so damn hard sometimes!

      (OT, but if you don’t mind me asking … how did you get the rest of the text to break [if that makes sense] so that the entire post wouldn’t show in an RSS feed? I’ve been trying to figure it out forEVER and well.. :| ahaha).

      • Amy

        I use a plug-in called “Ozh’ Better Feed.” Best plug-in ever!

    • Jen

      Oh my goodness, you have no idea how many times I’ve listened to It’s You and rewatched the video in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping, in class, at lunch, in the car, etc. I believe that I will never grow tired of this song (as I did for Sorry Sorry).

      And “Shupa Girl”, that was a good one too that I still listen to over and over again. And besides the corny studio set dance party, the music video was decent (and really easy on the eyes as well)

      I really got into k-pop this year and looking back on some of the music I liked in the beginning of the year I wonder why I even liked some (a lot) of it because its rather bad. At this point I’m moving forward with my constantly changing music preferences and leaving certain first loves behind, but as you said, k-pop is like a scab that you constantly, and obsessively return to pick at and you can’t get rid of it once you got it.

    • passenger in Bae Soo Bin’s ship

      hey Amy i totally enjoyed reading your review while agreeing on most part :)

      I tend to have a different song on repeat each time there’s a new release, with BEAST being the latest. But I’m gonna have to agree on Super Junior’s “Neorago” possibly being one of the best, if not *the* best. ‘One of’ cos’ my judgement tends to be confined within the mainstream/idol K-Pop. But more often than not I feel SuJu is under-appreciated and not taken seriously just because there are more members in the group than you can count with both hands. And basically what I’m trying to say is, if, only *if* this song was given to say, 2PM (assuming the outcome would still sound the same, vocally), trust me they could’ve won Song of The Year or something.

      and yaaaa – SHINee. I sometimes think ‘Ring Ding Dong’ is a bit lulzy as well, and I get embarassed for no reason whenever I have a family member/friend who is not at all into K-Pop, listen to it for the first time. But listening to the Minus One version of it, gotta admit that it *is* good and again with SHINee, they are not the most entertaining personality-wise, but I would like to appreciate my K-Pop group for their voice, first and foremost (compare that with my liking 2PM)

      have a great start to the new year!

    • jaesu17

      great post and our lists look really similar hahha. I love Survivor too!!!! so much. haha.

      also, Sorry Sorry not having a bridge – I thought bridge was the part from verse to chorus? like the part where sungmin is molesting ryeowook, no? or is that not a bridge lol

      • jaesu17

        just watched the TD perf (not sure why I haven’t before)…wow. as you said, props! although I must question why chun always likes to do that growl or whatever you call how he sings live these days. and why there is a girl between his legs

    • mintyboy

      absolutely right on with “gee.” I cannot stand to listen to the original (girl’s) version, but totally love the “boy’s generation” version. At least with the latter, I could hear different voices and not bleed my ears due to the insanely high/chipmunk-ish pitch like I did with the girls.