Category: K-Pop


I’ve never really been a huge SISTAR fan, but I am loving their new single, “Alone.” I like that the girls don’t have the extremely cutesy voices that many K-Pop girl groups have, and this song is sultry without crossing the line into slutty territory. The video was filmed in Vegas and features the girls lounging around a club and doing a sexy routine. The backing track has a good beat and a cool feel, and the chorus is catchy as hell. One of my top K-Pop songs of the year for sure!

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EP REVIEW: EXO – MAMA

EXO is SM Entertainment’s latest project. The label, one of the largest in the K-Pop industry, handles artists such as SHINee, Girls’ Generation and Super Junior. I had a chance to see their concert, SMTown, at Madison Square Garden in New York City last year, and I got to see first-hand the quality of SM Entertainment’s artists. Needless to say, I had extremely high expectations when EXO, a new boyband, was announced. After what has felt like hundreds of teasers, their first EP has finally been released!

The whole concept behind EXO is really interesting – 12 boys are split into two groups, EXO-K and EXO-M, that sing the same songs in either Korean or Mandarin. Looking at it from a business sense, it is brilliant. SM can now simultaneously enter two markets with essentially the same group. The two subgroups can fulfill double the commitments a regular artist could. Also, fans now have double the merchandise and music to purchase. However, from an artistic perspective, this is definitely a little weird. There are Korean and Chinese versions of every song and music video and it’s literally the most manufactured a pop group could possibly be.

Overall though, the group is on par with other SM artists – good singers, good dancers and a lot of star quality. So how is their first EP? Let’s take a listen to both EXO-K and EXO-M’s versions of MAMA…

1. MAMA

The lead single. After two very good prologue singles, I had very high expectations for the actual single. It’s good – but not as good as I wanted it to be. I love the heaviness of the music and the creepy chanting, but I feel like the chorus could have been stronger – not sure if that’s down to production or what – but it never reaches the epic proportions that I want it to. The screamo bridge is a little much for me (and a little scary in the video) but I do like the buildup throughout the song. As a first single though, it’s a good start for the group and the choreography is great. I look forward to seeing them perform it more and singing it live. I definitely think the song sounds better in Korean (I just think it’s a prettier language when sung) but the members of EXO-M definitely sing just as well as those in EXO-K. In an ideal world, I would mix and match their voices to form the perfect group of 6.

2. What Is Love

I love this song. This was the first song we ever heard from the group, and I was pleasantly surprised. It sounds a lot like TVXQ’s RnB ballads. The two leads in the Korean version, D.O. and Baekhyung, are awesome. The leads in the Chinese version, Lu Han and Chen, are just as good. Out of the four, I like Baekhyung and Lu Han’s voices the best, but all four of them are definitely amazing vocalists. I hope that as time goes on and the group becomes more established, the four of them have a chance to sing together and really do some crazy harmonies and adlibs together. The song’s backing track is really interesting (it has a really choppy riff that goes through it that makes it memorable) and the emotion in their voices really show. Those adlibs at the end are crazy…I haven’t heard many Western male singers sing like that in a long time.

3. History

Definitely my favorite on the album. This was the second prologue single released by the group, and it is catchy with a good beat and a great dance routine. The chorus is fun and has a great hook. This is definitely a more “typical” K-Pop song, but it’s a good one and I hope that the group continues in this direction. Kudos to the whoever did the choreography cause I love it!

4. Angel

A ballad! This song is more of a generic boyband slow song (kinda soppy) but it has a pleasant melody and good harmonies. I’m glad that it doesn’t just sound like some Super Junior/SHINee/TVXQ reject and actually matches the sound set by the first three songs.

5. Two Moons (feat. Key from SHINee)

Rap song…interesting. It’s alright…good to showcase some other skills that other members have but I definitely think I’ve heard better rap stuff from SM before. I do like that Key’s there though and he brings a lighter/thinner voice to accompany the low/thick voices of EXO members.

6. Machine

First thought as the verse starts is that it sounds like f(x) – which isn’t a bad thing at all. I like the production in the song. It’s a solid end to the album – a song that’s not good enough to be a single but could be a really good performance if given a quality dance routine. Love the breakdown for the bridge as well – harmonies are cool and the build up back to the chorus is fun. Chorus is catchy and easy to sing along to.

OVERALL THOUGHTS:

Solid first EP. Not the best EP I’ve ever heard in my life, but definitely on par with other SMTown releases. I will definitely keep an eye on EXO and I hope that they keep getting better and find their niche within the huge array of boybands in the K-Pop world. SM has done a good job of not making them sound too much like TVXQ/Super Junior/SHINee and I’m interested to see how they develop.

SHINee were my introduction to K-Pop. Their song “Lucifer” was too good to not get into, and soon after that I was researching about other groups and getting into the whole industry. I was extremely excited when they finally announced their comeback and knew that it would be amazing. Their RnB-tinged pop is awesome and so catchy, and their dancing and singing skills are just crazy. There is honestly no Western pop band that is as talented as them.

Sherlock (Clue + Note) – 10/10
Brilliant. The song is exactly what I expected from SHINee – a progression from “Lucifer” that has a Michael Jackson-feel and is reminiscent of “Juliette” and “Love Like Oxygen.” The music video is great as well and I love that it was choreographed by Tony Testa (Michael Jackson and Kylie Minogue!!). The chorus is brilliant – really catchy and just enough English for me to sing along! The way the song was put together reminds me of Girls Aloud – where each verse is completely different and has a different feel. Jonghyun sounds awesome (as always) and this is definitely up there as one of SHINee’s best songs. The end is amazing as well – GIVE IT UP FOR SHINEEEEEEEEE!

Clue – 8/10
So this is where the mini-album gets kinda weird because since “Sherlock” is actually a mash-up of “Clue” and “Note,” they decided to let us hear what those two songs originally sounded like before they were turned into “Sherlock.” I’m not sure this was really necessary as there aren’t enough different parts in the song to make them stand out as an independent song. The whole intro/first verse (over a minute!) is exactly the same as “Sherlock” and is just missing the chorus. The little breakdown near the 2:35 mark by Jonghyun is the only interesting part of having “Clue.”

Note – 8/10
Love the intro and the backing track in “Note.” Again, there’s nothing that interesting about the song since it makes up half of “Sherlock” and just feels like a half-song. But the chorus (that is also used in “Sherlock”) is so awesome that I don’t mind listening to it again. Again, this song is a non-event since the majority of it is used in “Sherlock” anyway.

Alarm Clock – 9/10
I love this song. I love all of SHINee’s slower RnB tracks and this definitely doesn’t disappoint. All the boys have great voices and this song showcases it in a great way. I’m glad that Jonghyun got to write it as well because “Obsession” from their last album was great. This song has a great chorus and a great feel and I’m excited to hear them sing it live. Love Minho’s spoken bit at the end too.

The Reason – 8/10
Another slower track that is on par with SHINee’s past ballads. This song has a good chorus. It’s not really anything special but is a good addition to their catalogue and rounds out the mini-album nicely. The middle 8 is the best part of the song and I love the strings in the backing track.

Stranger – 9/10
I loved “Stranger” when it was on SHINee’s Japanese album, “The First,” so I was actually excited to hear the Korean version. The song has a great feel and has a cool chorus with a good melody. They have been performing it as part of their comeback performances as well which has made me like the song even more. The song is just dramatic enough and is another one that’s fun to listen to.

Honestly – 8/10
Oooh, an acoustic track! Something different for SHINee. This was apparently written by Jonghyun and Minho for the fans. It has a pleasant melody and is a good end to the mini-album. I wish it had some harmonies in there because I know they can pull it off, but other than that, it’s a good simple song.

OVERALL THOUGHTS:  Solid comeback! I wish we got two other tracks instead of “Clue” and “Note,” but with plans of a full album later in the year, this will hold me until then. I am very excited to have them back and will definitely be listening to these songs for awhile. Now everyone watch the dance rehearsal of “Sherlock”!

OVERALL THOUGHTS

“Alive” is a solid effort from Big Bang. None of the songs measure up to the Big Bang classics such as “Lies,” “Haru Haru” and “Heaven” but it’s definitely better than their last EP. The album is very consistent – there is no bad song, but at the same time there isn’t one song that stands out and calls for multiple repeats. All of the melodies are pleasant and the production is great across the whole album. The group has definitely shown their growth in versatility and improvement in vocal and emotive abilities throughout the album. I am extremely excited that they have planned a world tour over the rest of the year and hope that I can make it to one of their shows! They are definitely one of the best K-Pop artists out there and I’m very happy that they are getting so much attention around the world.

TRACK BY TRACK: 

Intro (Alive) – 9/10

This is an energetic introduction to the album. Despite not understanding the exact lyrics, I can feel the sentiment and positivity. After everything the group went through last year, the group is alive and ready to continue their journey. The sound is reminiscent of some older Big Bang songs and the production is great. I wish this was a full song and not just an intro!

Blue – 9/10

It’s a little weird to go from such a positive intro to a mellower song. I definitely think that “Blue” is the best song on the album. It took me a couple listens/video views to really get into it, but I love the feel of the song and it has a great melody. One thing I love about Big Bang is how good the members are at emoting through their voices. I can’t understand most of what they’re saying, but I can still feel everything they are singing. The chorus has a catchy hook and they all sound great. I look forward to a performance!

Love Dust – 7/10

“Love Dust” has a Europop feel, which I of course love. It’s got a positive melody and is one of those songs that you naturally start bopping your head to. I like the verses more than the chorus though. The chorus is a little underwhelming and doesn’t really match the build-up in the music. The middle 8 is definitely the best part of the song in my opinion.

Bad Boy – 8/10

When I first heard this song (through watching the music video), I wasn’t that into it. However, the song grew on me really fast and I now really like it. I think I was too distracted by G-Dragon’s awful hair when watching the video to give the song my full attention. I love the chill vibe and the beats sound great when using headphones. I love the use of piano and its subtle R&B feel. This is definitely one of my favorites off the EP!

Ain’t No Fun – 9/10

Love the 90’s feel of the song! From the second the music started, I knew I would like this song. The feel of the song reminds me a bit of “Fool” from Big Bang’s Hot Issue EP released back in 2007, which is still a favorite of mine. I love the chorus and this is definitely a standout for me on the album! Can’t wait to see the MV and how they perform it.

Fantastic Baby – 7/10

This song sounds like a Black Eyed Peas song. The instrumental sounds extremely American. It’s a good club track and is probably the most predictable song on the album with a simple hook and a generic electropop vibe. The whole feel reminds me of 2NE1’s “I Am The Best” and GD&TOP’s “High High,” which isn’t a bad thing. It’s definitely catchy and rounds out the album well, but it’s not my favorite.

Wings – 8/10

When I heard that Daesung was going to have a solo on the album, I was expecting a really emotional ballad about all of the problems he faced last year. But I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it because it’s actually a very happy song! It has a great melody and is very radio friendly. The use of guitar brings in a pop/rock feel, which kind of reminds me of some of Kelly Clarkson’s instrumentals (which of course is a great thing). Daesung has a great voice and I’m really glad he got to showcase that with this album. The song is a great way to end the album.