2012, adios!

The only things I cared about this year:

Just kidding.

In lieu of my usual year-end reviews where I compulsively write about everything I watched and listened to, this one is just going to be on the things that left an impression on me.

BoA, Only One

This whole comeback was great not because “Only One” is a good song. It’s a nice song, but also too many piano tinkers of blah and vanilla. The choreography, however, is some next-level shit. This song pretty much exemplifies how SM operates with its music: choreography over music. The choreography for “Only One” is an absolute piece of art. It’s artistic hip hop, which we never see in K-pop, and it’s fascinatingly difficult, which makes its execution even more amazing to watch.

BoA is the perfect kind of performer to perform it, and it’s cool that this song was never meant to be highly commercially valuable (this album pretty much tanked with both physical and digital sales). I love that in essence, this was more a vanity project for BoA than anything else, but the vanity of it ended up highlighting BoA’s biggest strengths as a performer, the fact that she’s a magnificent dancer. This song was also a good project for BoA because it seemed to lift her spirits as a performer and to bring her back into a spotlight that’s mostly left her cold. She’s barely been quiet about how stressful and lonely her career has been, and she seemed genuinely happy and excited to promote “Only One”, so that’s lovely to see.

U-Kiss, Stop Girl

2012 was great for K-pop, but this song gets my vote for song of the year. Everything about “Stop Girl” just works. It’s straightforward and doesn’t buck to any of the current K-pop musical trends, but it’s still contemporary and interesting in its own ways. It’s arresting without being conspicuous, confident without being aggressive. The choreography is one of my favorite sets ever, and it works so, so, so well with the song and image.

Bonus point for being able to incorporate the word “depleted” perfectly into the lyrics, and another bonus point for one of the best dance room practice videos ever.

I’ve rambled about this song not long ago, so I’ll keep this one short.

Junsu, Uncommitted

Junsu is my favorite idol. This is not going to change. Ever. A good 80% of the reason why he’s my favorite idol is because he’s such a fantastic performer. I think most of his solo material has been doo doo. But this does not change the fact that he can perform the ugliest sounding song man has ever heard and still be fucking fantastic. The thing I hate most is when great performers get shitty songs, and this happens so much in K-pop that I just patiently wait for when the good song will come.

So I’ve sat through all the shitty songs. But that one good song came in the form of “Uncommitted.” Honestly, it’s not even that good. It’s your standard uptempo R&B track. But since Junsu has split off from SM Dungeons, he hasn’t sung a single song that’s captured my attention. Everything is either messy and awful, or soporific and bleeding hearts. And a genre that I’ve always wanted DBSK to attempt more of was R&B, because that would give way to more hip hop choreography, but they’ve never really gotten that. JYJ has done more of it (Empty, Ayy Girl) but I haven’t liked anything until “Uncommitted” came along.

In an interview with MTV K, Junsu described the choreography for “Uncommitted” as not “부담스러워” (burdensome). At first, I was confused why he would describe it like that, but now I know. I love that he’s seasoned enough as a performer to have all these different performance intuitions about music.

He’s completely right. “Uncommitted” is perfectly un-burdensome. It’s clean cut and easy to listen to, and it’s in these easy-to-listen to songs that I’m reminded that he’s such an unpretentious singer. I liked “Uncommitted” the second I heard it, but I actually didn’t know that I’d like it that much until I heard him sing a preview at his Hong Kong show. It was a short 30-second teaser, but it gutted me. He sings from a very pure place, and it makes my heart hurt a little.

f(x), 훌쩍 (Let’s Try)

This has become one of my favorite K-pop songs, and it’s definitely the best song f(x) has ever sang. I don’t think they’ll sing a better song than this. I’m not going to grieve over the lame state of f(x) affairs, because I feel like I’ve depleted myself of all words related to that topic, and also because prefacing every good thing said about f(x)’s music with a note on their non-success makes their good music seem like a fluke.

And this song isn’t a fluke, and it’s not only just okay. This song is what sweet mid-tempo dreams are made of. It’s sophisticated, but young. Upbeat, but wistful. It’s not a dance track nor is it a ballad, which makes it the perfect kind of middling genre song that so little people in K-pop try.

Big Bang, Bad Boy

This is the best song Big Bang’s put out in years, maybe since “Lies,” and this mini is the best mini they’ve put out since Always. This just goes to show what a huge difference working with a fresh, non-YG producer makes, and also what happens when you strip music down to its bare bones, something that YG hasn’t been able to do since they got addicted to autotune and noise like they’re street drugs.

The clip I embedded above is actually perfect as it is: all black, no image stand-in for the audio, not a live performance. Everything about “Bad Boy” other than the music is pure stupidity. The music video is a waste of space, the frilly outfits take away from the song, and honestly, even the live performances take away from this song. While Big Bang are still great performers, they’ve progressed into this awful mindset where they think image makes a song. This is different than K-pop taking the concept of “image” too seriously. Big Bang has always been focused on a creative aesthetic, but over the last two years, it feels like they think that if they’re not making a statement, they’re not progressing; if they’re not toeing the line, their status as trendsetters is not being asserted. And those are just false notions, man.

Big Bang has so much more going on for them than a reliance on image, but they’ve veered into manic territory. Their craziness is being used as proof of their creativity, and the positive feedback they get from it makes them think their creativity needs craziness. I think Daesung is the only performer in this group left who’s as grounded as he was when they first debuted. Everyone else has, in their own way, bought into a grander perception of themselves, which is reflected in their performances. I want more of this amazingness: raw, honest, and emotional. Like, I can’t remember the last time TOP rapped like that. I miss that TOP. I think “Bad Boy” is the right song for a return to Big Bang grittiness, but I often feel like Big Bang no longer wants to ever show a version of themselves that appears vulnerable, so they douse it with superficial swag and neon colors. But they don’t need any of that.

EXO, What is Love

I generally like Yoo Young-jin’s entire class of R&B twangers with excessive ad-libbing and belting from the SM family, but after a year straight of listening to this song, I’ve decided “What is Love” is my favorite.

I associate music with weather a lot, and this song debuted at the end of January this year. I remember reading that Korea had experienced record low temperatures this winter, right around the time when the first Exo teasers were being released, and I remember this one in particular, and wondered just how cold it was when they filmed it.

The reason I brought all of that up is that “What is Love” always sounded the opposite of cold to me. Maybe it was the electric guitar riff, maybe it’s the blend of warm vocals, maybe it’s the weird narration at the beginning that always reminded me of a parody of 80s fireside porno…regardless, this song always sounded like a heavy blanket would feel. It’s oddly comfortable to listen to on repeat and exceptionally calming.

This was also the first song Exo ever released, and it’s probably not surprising to anyone who’s followed this blog for a while, but I like different versions of the things familiar. It feeds my neuroses and my need to figure them out, because different versions of the same thing are only different for a reason. “What is Love,” then, is the beginning of a long-term, detail-oriented study. It’s like SM debuted Exo JUST FOR ME.

Exo, Angel

I’ll start with what doesn’t work with “Angel”: the magic of the song is lost after the first verse and doesn’t pick up until the bridge. The choruses are generic, continue for too long, and have much more going on than they should. The reason why the opener is so beautiful is because it’s stark: drum starts, Luhan/Baekhyun opens, drum fades, piano starts, Lay/Suho continue, note changes (I love this note change so much), Chen/DO finishes out the verse. So simple, but also really hard to do stylistically (Luhan and Baekhyun have a helluva time replicating soft, restrained singing live). So when the first verse just segways into a generic chorus, the song feels generic, and this song is anything but.

Otherwise, this song basically makes me keyboard smash. The lyrics are beautiful, the choreography is fantastic (well, K’s is, M’s not so much, but K+M are great too!), and who expects a group of 12 (twelve) to be able to perform such an ethereal song so well? Times are a changin’ at SM musically (fresh blood! See note about Big Bang and non-YG producers) and “Angel” is a complete breath of fresh air.

Shut Up Flower Boy Band

This is without a doubt my favorite drama of the year, and maybe one of my favorites ever. I never wrote about it, but it deserves to be written about at least in my year-end review. This drama does so many things well — and maybe that’s really easy for a coming-of-age story, you can’t fuck ’em up! — but this drama hits all the right spots for me. It didn’t reinvent the wheel as far as high school band stories go, but it doesn’t matter because the characters left such an impression. Downtrodden high school students who love music: that’s an easy cliche and the drama could have veered into a stereotype, but it didn’t.

The beauty of Shut Up Flower Boy Band are the little scenes that hit you in the gut when you least expect them to. I started crying uncontrollably during one scene and couldn’t stop, and it’s not like I even anticipated it would draw such a reaction, but it was built into the moment and that’s what leaves an impression.

The best feel-good stories are the ones that make the viewer feel ferociously ambitious and optimistic, even when the story and the situations have no actual relevance to the viewer’s life. They propel a certain kind of longing for a mindset and an attitude, and I think SUFBB does that successfully with its cast of characters. The cast had unbelievable chemistry with each other, and even though they were all pretty green in terms of acting, their interactions with each other illustrated the kind of friendship utopia that moves even the coldest of viewers. The friendship in this story is what makes the story, and when things end on a hopeful note, everything feels better.

This drama also had one of the best drama soundtracks ever. No song was used as a throwaway and all music cues were loaded with meaning. The clip I embedded above is the last scene from the drama and the song is one of the theme songs. When that scene started and the song played … man, everything hurt.

Song Joong-ki

See: very rambly love letter.

– – – – – –

Here’s a list of a bunch of my favorite songs and albums from this year, as well as the dramas I’ve watched or dropped. (Read: goooood year for K-pop, baaaad year for K-dramas, gooood year for me watching American TV again.)

– – – – – –

So long, 2012 year-end review! Till I write another one of you again next year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/belinda.ratata Belinda Ratts

    Wow are you me? I 100% agree with everything you wrote here. The main standouts for me this year were definitely BOA (Only One is PERFECTION and I will never tire of her performing that stellar choreography) and U-KISS’s Stop Girl. Bad Boy has become one of my favourite Big Bang songs however I choose to remain in denial that a music video has ever existed because it is just down right embarrassing. I loved them walking around NY though, that was pretty but everything else was major facepalm.

    Ah my f(x) girls! Would have to say that they’re my current favourite girl group at the moment as their songs are always so fun and fresh and not to mention they are just adorable. Stage wise they’re extremely lacking in charisma and it’s boring to watch them perform most times but Amber definitely makes up for most of the charms that they bring on stage. Speaking of Amber I had no idea that the girl could sing! I remember watching a short clip of her singing the Weibo song and she has such a pleasant voice! I hope she gets opportunities to sing more in the future because it would be such a waste.

    So my favourite songs of 2012:

    1. Stop Girl – UKISS
    2. What is Love – EXO, love both versions but M’s a little more because Luhan’s voice is so calming that I feel like I’m listening to a lullaby at times
    3. HIstory – EXO-M, I feel that their version flows a bit more
    4. Only One – BOA
    5. I Wish – FT Island
    6. Bad Boy and Fantastic Baby – Big Bang (I also quite liked Monster)
    7. That XX, Missing You and One of a Kind – GDragon
    8 .Let’s Try and Beautiful Stranger – f(x)
    9. Sherlock – Shinee
    10. Alone – SISTAR
    11. Twinkle, OMG and Love Sick – SNSD-TTS

    Drama wise I felt everything was pretty underwhelming this year. I tried to watch Nice Guy for my husband Joong Ki but just could not get through it. Too Bold and the Beautiful-ish for my taste.

    • Guest

      Whoa long comment is long lol, sorry!

  • http://www.thisisxixia.com/ Xixia

    Hey there!
    Okay, so I just stumbled upon this blog, and I really love it. This review is wonderful, and I definitely agree with a number of things you listed. EXO was my crack in 2012. I’m dying (DYING) for them to release something new. And Song Joong-ki…?! Gah, he’s wonderful. Though I actually haven’t watched his latest drama, I fell in love with him from Running Man. He and Ji-hyo were absolutely adorable.

    Anyways, I’m going to explore the rest of your blog now. Can’t wait to see your next update! (:

    ♥ x i x i a

    • http://evacuatewithstyle.org/blog Amy

      Hi! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed.

      You have a lovely blog yourself :)

  • burn021

    Agree 100% with everything you said, and 200% with what you said about Big Bang. I love them and always will, but I wish they would strip all of the gimmicky stuff away.