Tuesday, January 3, 2012

[2011 Gayo Daejun Special] KBS - The Okay, The Boring and The Sleep-Inducing

I think the title alone is a big giveaway of how the KBS Gayo Daejun was. Sometimes sleep-incuding, most of the time boring, and occasionally okay. Yup, that's about right. It was a smaller venue than the SBS and KBS ones, which means that KBS should've had an easier time handling the sound quality and such, but I'm afraid that was not the case, because vocals during the latter parts of the show were horrid. Plus the fact that the people in the audience were practically zombies, and the acts looked bored out of their wits, as if they were forced to appear on the show. Which they probably were.

I wanted the acts jumping through hoops and fire, KBS, HOOPS AND FIRE. I got none of that. At all. Even from my beloved DBSK. How dare you.

Two things before we start. This recap focuses only on idols, so the other acts who appeared on the show, rappers and the like, will not be included in the selection. And also, I wanted to get this out as fast as possible before everyone forgets about the Gayo Daejuns. So due to the fact that today is a school night and I have a mountain of readings to tackle (ALREADY!! *sobs*), plus I'm about to collapse from fatigue and stress and general exhaustion, the videos and other formatting details will have to wait until tomorrow when I'm a bit more alive. Please don't ask me for the videos, because writing this up took a so much effort, and a lot of strong coffee.

Before we get to the three main categories of this recap, there is one performance that deserves a special mention. Not because it's amazingly good, but because it was horribly blasphemous.

Kim Hyun Joong - "Rainism"
If Rain saw this, he'd bawl his eyes out because it's so bad. It's even too bad to be a parody, because parodies are deliberately made bad, so they can be funny (did anyone see that Kim Shin Young parody where the lyrics were about food?), but Kim Hyun Joong was as serious as serious can be. And really now, even if Rain wasn't exactly K-Pop's best singer, at least he could sing his own songs! This performance was LIP-SYNCHED, and it was STILL bad. The dancing wasn't that hot, the vocals were pathetic and painful, especially towards the end when he tried to do those runs, and this was a useless performance. Absolutely useless.

Davichi - "Don't Say Goobye"
It's a gorgeous song, and a gorgeous arrangement, with those epic drums and the stunning and flawless harmonies, but it was soooooooooo boring. The only thing keeping me awake was the thought that their voices were really gorgeous, and the harmonies kinda gave me little slaps on the face to keep me from drifting to sleep. And it didn't help that they were the only ones on stage and they were just standing there. I don't talk about it much, but I've always believed that the visual aspect of a performance is important too. Always second to the music, yes, but without the visuals you get performances like this.

4Minute - "Mirror Mirror"
It was interesting enough until they started singing, with all the back-up dancers behind them and the white coats against the dark backdrop, but it just got boring once they started singing. The dance break was okay, and Gayoon standing alone on stage kinda woke me up a bit, but once the singing started again there were nothing special, even with the remix and all the flashing lights.

U-Kiss - "Neverland"
I understand that they were trying to do the "epic" sound with this re-arrangement, but it completely sucked all the life out of the song. That's not just because their vocals were muffled, but because the instrumental was so one-dimensional. They tried to put some kick in it, but failed miserably. The entire performance sounded like U-Kiss were submerged in a tub of jello, and all you hear are muffled screams.

f(x) - "Danger"
Everything about this performance looked, and sounded, so robotic. Except Luna's line, but everything was so stiff, and Amber looked bored. There's a difference between orchestrated down to the last detail and robotic, and this performance was robotic.

Secret - "Shy Boy"+"Love is MOVE"
I adore the re-arrangement of "Shy Boy", it had spunk to it, but what ultimately bored me to death was the fact that "Shy Boy" was lip-synched. Their vocals were too clean for the performance, too smooth for something that should be really high-energy and lively, because of the nature of the processing. But on the other hand, their live vocals on "Love is MOVE" were weak, and that bored me too, because it sounded just like a regular weekly music show. I'm better off watching an episode of MuBank, the sound might even be better.

SNSD - "The Boys"
This was just like any other performance of "The Boys", and it wasn't even done extraordinarily well, in fact, they sounded even more strangled than they usually do, and that was the only thing that kept me awake, to be honest with you.

2PM - "Electricity"+"Hands Up"
"Electricity" was okay, but when you slow "Hands Up" down, it sounds even worse. It's repetitive, it's monotonous, and the instrument is very one-dimensional, so it literally sounds like you just slowed the song down at home and played it at a New Year's Eve party with your family and friends. It just goes on and on and on and on. If not for their stage presence, this would've put me to sleep from the very beginning.

f(x), 4Minute, Infinite, IU, Super Junior, - K-Pop Shuffle Dance Special/K-Pop To The World
Oh dear. The lights gave me a headache, and the dubstep overload just put me to sleep. Gee, thanks KBS. You clearly didn't want me to watch the rest of your show. Seriously, even with the hooks under the heavy looping, the thing just went on and on and on and oooooooooooon. And they were essentially just doing a bunch of dance steps over and over and over and overrrrrrr. Although, the one thing that amused me was the fact that "Mr. Simple", without the heavy remixing, fit right in to the medley. That just goes to show how shallow that song is.

BEAST - "Fiction"
You know, when the performers themselves look like they're bored out of their wits and scream half-hearted "let's go!"'s, it affects their entire performance. Everything. And BEAST performed - sang, danced - like zombies. It's not even funny or incredibly bad, it's so pitiful that I just wanted to sleep through it to not see it. And it doesn't help that Hyunseung completely destroyed his high note. Even when they changed the arrangement towards the end, they still looked half-asleep, and the guy singing looked like he was about to cry. There was absolutely no kick to this performance, and it's such a shame because I expect a lot from BEAST.

Kim Hyun Joong - "Lucky Guy"
This is definitely a better choice, over "Break Down", because it's just that much more lively and fits Hyun Joong's vocals, but it STILL put me to sleep. It didn't help that this came over that horrid shuffle dance medley, so I was still half asleep. Even if it's a lively song, Hyun Joong's vocals have absolutely no sense of dynamics, nor do they have any body, and so he effectively made this performance flat. The best part was the end.

IU - "Good Day"+"You and I"
Strong, consistent, vocals, but the remix was so boring and generic that, once again, it sucked out all the life out of the song. And even if IU's vocals are nice, they're pretty thin around the edges, and so she needs kick to her arrangements. This was just flat, so her vocals turned too cute and too weak, albeit okay. And it put me off for the rest of the performance, so when "You and I" came on I was already knocked out and asleep. And no amount of bouncy, IU could've erased the boring arrangement she just did beforehand.

The Okay
Infinite - "Paradise"+"Be Mine"
The lights on the suits, although not exactly original, were a nice touch and an okay way to open the show. Nothing especially spectacular happened on this performance, but their vocals were pretty solid for Infinite standards, the dance intro was well-prepared and practiced (no one forgot anything), and the transitions, from the dance to the remix of "Paradise", to another dance break and finally to "Be Mine", were clean. The fact that this is one of the best performances of the night should not only be a compliment to Infinite, but an insult to KBS.

I never thought I'd see the day where I'd put a SISTAR performance among the best, but really, after the boring performances that came before, this was a welcome relief. And it's not like SISTAR are completely talentless, only 3/4 of them! Hyorin's vocals were incredibly strong as usual, and for the first time I didn't notice their lack of grace that much. I see improvement!

Miss A - "Goodbye Baby"
Brilliant re-arrangement. I loved the drums during the intro, even if they were pretty useless for the rest of the song, but I also adore the arrangement of the song itself, with just that hint of rock elements, including real drums (!!), but also enough of the original, familiar, arrangement! And they pulled this off much, much better than the SBS re-arrangement! Strong vocals, good concept, fitting re-arrangement. Best performance of the night? Best performance of the night.

Wonder Girls - "Be My Baby"
The beginning was messy, I don't know if it was on purpose or what, but their choreography was all over the place. Their vocals were strong, and up until the dance break it was actually really boring. All I could think of was that if I wanted to see a performance like this, I could've watched a weekly music show. Even their comeback was more flashy than that. But the end kind of resurrected them, and it was so amusing to hear Ye Eun and Sun Ye actually singing what should've been autotuned. I'd say, as a whole, this is okay verging on boring.

DBSK/HoMin - "Before U Go"+"Why? (Keep Your Head Down)"
This was not their best. It wasn't, and I'm disappointed, but their heavily overdubbed vocals could've been because this was pre-recorded and SME couldn't help but show off their flashy studios. HOWEVER, if you listen well enough (like I know many of you did!), it's rather clear that they're actually singing and not just relying on the overdub because their vocals were actually consistent. And that's something these new acts have to learn. Like what I said about their SBS performance, DBSK are, first and foremost, singers, and so even with the overdub, it's courtesy to the audience to sing live for a live performance. And that's what separates them from their back-up dancers, that's why they're the featured artist on their albums. Not because they look good, go on variety shows, and dance on stage, but because they sing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

[2011 Gayo Daejun Special] SBS - The Good, The Bad, and The Promising

It's January first pretty much everywhere now, I guess, so happy new year to all you guys! Thank you for making 2011 such an amazing year for me, without you guys and your constant pestering and all your tear-jerking comments, as well as all the trolling I got this year, I would've never been able to get through the year in one piece, and win my very first Philippine Blog Award! Thank you so much for taking time out of your lives to read my work, and even more time out to comment on my posts. I may not answer your comments, but I read every single one of them. You've made Pop Reviews Now one of the leading critical K-Pop review blogs, and although I still have a long way to go, I promise to make an effort to repay you guys this year for all your support. Also, thank you for reading this, because it means you're sticking with me this 2012!

Allow me to explain this post first though. I really meant to do a recap of the 2011 Gayo Daejuns, but the original plan was throwing everything in to one huge post with all three networks' shows divided into several categories. However, due to the fact that I want to get the Gayo Daejun post out as fast as possible before it becomes stale news, and also the fact that I'm still in the process of getting a copy of the MBC show (which I've heard is the best out of the three), I've decided to split the posts by network. Today's recap is of the SBS show, which was broadcast on December 29th. Tomorrow I will be recapping the KBS show, and on Tuesday the MBC show (hopefully I have a copy of it by then), if everything goes as planned.

The first of the three Gayo Daejuns this year, SBS delivered a solid show with 170 singers packed in to three and a half hours of running around stage. The show was divided into several themed stages, including a special suite for SM Entertainment artists (and the debut of several EXO members), one which featured CN Blue and FT Island collaborating with f(x) and the Wonder Girls, and a hip-hop stage. The SBS show was a balance of familiar, hit singles from 2011, and special stages.

But that doesn't mean it was immune to disasters, because there were quite a few. And there were those performances that could've been really amazing, but didn't really come out right. I won't be recapping the entire show, instead, we'll talk about the best, worst, and the most promising performances.

B1A4 - Beautiful Target
And the award for the worst performance of the night? Well, that goes to none other than B1A4. For several reasons. First, obviously the song itself is a complete and utter disaster. It's all over the place in the most spread-out way possible. You look away for a while and the song sounds completely different, plus, about 99% of the song has to utilize a backing track, because the vocal treatment changes every five seconds, so basically all these guys are doing is screaming "yeah!" and running around stage. I'd hardly call that a performance. Second, what is with that choreography? My eyes. And third, when you put the song, together with the horrid choreography, and the fact that they're actually trying desperately, it's hilarious.

Gain (Brown Eyed Girls), Jiyeon (T-Ara), Hyun A (4Minute), Sunhwa (Secret), Fei (Miss A), G.NA - "Run the World"
Oh wow. Where do I start. Well, I appreciate the effort, and I appreciate the fact that they included Ga-In (even if she forgot some of the choreography), but this performance was another mess. Too many girls, and I guess they didn't have enough time to learn the whole song, because for the majority of the song they danced in shifts, and yeah, choreography was forgotten. The dancing in shifts really irritated me though, because it really shows how unprepared they were, and it's like the performance was half gyrating all over the place, and half dead air. At the same time. It's inconsistent, three or four of them are dancing, then there are two or three just standing there on the side. What are they, mannequins? If they didn't have enough time, then they should've just done one verse and a chorus or something. I'd rather they did that then haphazardly do a full, 3-minute performance. And really, people can only take so much of that kind of dancing.

G.NA - "Top Girl"+"Black&White"
It really breaks my heart to see G.NA like this. With that horrid choreography at the beginning, those pretty weak vocals throughout, and the cheap repertoire. She's talented, she shouldn't be singing songs like this, because they do her absolutely no justice.

KARA and 2PM - "Every Little Step"
Everyone was so dead during this performance. I mean I understand that KARA and 2PM aren't the best singers around, but what makes this so bad is that it was already lip-synced for heaven's sake, and yet the singing was wimpy and lifeless. I would've written it off anyway if the vocals were fixed up, but not as much as I am now. If you're going to lip-sync a performance anyway, at least use all those studio tricks to make the track sound damn good. Such lazy, lazy people.

Miss A - "Goodbye Baby"
I adore this arrangement, I really do. It's so fierce, and it matches the melody so well. It's obvious that this was thought about. However, their vocals on this were so disappointing, bad almost. Like, really, they were weak and everyone sounded like they were being strangled all the way through. I've dealt with the regular Miss A breathlessness since they debuted, and they got better this year, but this performance was so painful to listen to. It's such a waste though, because the arrangement was really good.

After School - "Diva"
This was a really interesting song choice, but also a very logical one, because "Shampoo" would bore people to death. Just the idea of hearing them perform "Diva" after so long is enough to get people interested, but in true After School fashion, they failed to deliver. Add the fact that line-stealer Raina struck again, STEALING LINES FROM JUNG AH (HOW DARE SHE), and that they didn't do the entire song and it just disappeared into them and Pledis boys dancing to dubstep (snore..), the originally good idea turned into bad execution.

KARA - "Step"
This is another arrangement I really like. "Step" in itself is already a big performance-ready song, and there's little you can do, but I like how they made the percussion sound a lot more real as if they had a live band behind them. They didn't lose that high-energy, yet girly, sound, but they made it a lot more apt for a live performance, and the transition to and from the dance break was very smoothly done. The let down? Again, the vocals. I'm not surprised, in fact I was expecting worst, but just because this is the best they can do, doesn't mean I'll forgive them for being inferior. They can't sing live, and it's such a shame because their material is really, really good, fun, pop.

T-Ara - "Cry Cry"
If this was done completely live and pulled off just as well as it was lip-synced, this would've been one of the best performances. But no, the backing track wins and you hear next to no live vocals. The arrangement is brilliant, the dance break is different but not disjointed and they kept the distinct piano line, even a bit of the original feel of the song, but made it fresher, and interesting. And believe me, after looping this for over 200 times this year, thus making the original arrangement pretty stale for me, this is really a strong, new, but faithful take on the song. It's an amazing arrangement ruined by bad production decisions and possibly the lack of solid live vocals.

CN Blue and The Wonder Girls - "Tainted Love"
First of all, Yoobin shouldn't have been the first to sing, because I was turned off right away. Yoobin isn't a bad singer, but you have to have a certain level of proficiency to sing songs like this, and she doesn't have that. She sounded like she was drunk and singing this on karaoke or something, not on stage. But Sohee and Lim don't have that proficiency either. Lim needs more power and this is a song she can't get away with because she has an American accent. And really now Sohee, why do you even try. Her line was all air and no singing, she was useless. It should have been just Ye Eun and Sun Ye doing this, because if it was it would've been an amazing performance.

Wonder Girls - "Be My Baby"
It was a classy performance, with decent vocals and a very polished arrangement, but even if the arrangement was fresh, it was boring. Pretty piano line, yes, and if you think really hard it's actually not a bad performance or anything, it surprisingly matches the lesser members' vocals even if it's now more dependent on the melody, but this is a performance, it's supposed to really catch your attention from the very beginning. In a sense, this arrangement was so predictable, but on the other hand, had they done a rock remix it would've been boring too considering all the other rock-ish arrangements that came before them. But actually, I liked the track that was playing during the intro, if they turned that into the remix things would've been interesting. Basically, what this performance lacks is shock. I know I have very high expectations of them, but after "Wonder World", why wouldn't I?

SMTOWN - "The Sound of Hallyu"
I loved the idea of this, and I loved how, even if majority of them weren't playing live, it was made very obvious that the people who played instruments actually know how to play them in real life. And I like how the people who sang were actually the people who can sing, and they didn't force people who are dancers, not singers, to sing. Like Taeyeon and Changmin's duet. Even if Changmin out-screamed Taeyeon, she was definitely the right choice for the song. If it had been Jessica I would have raised hell. The Shinhwa and H.O.T. covers were tame, and that's one of the two reasons why this is a "promising", but not one of the best performances. The songs they chose need savage vocals. Raw, powerful, with minimal processing, but seeing as the people they got to sing those parts, although good singers, simply don't have the vocals to do those songs justice. Of course the Exo members were a big part of the thrill of this suite, but they, or actually just one of them, are the second reason I didn't put this down as one of the best performances. Towards the end, the second guy to the left of Changmin, I think he was the one who danced after Victoria, was TALKING to the other Exo guy beside him. That's such horrid stage deportment. It may not be a lot to you guys, because the standard reaction is "So what's wrong with that? They're just talking.", but this is one of the most basic forms of courtesy towards not only the audience, because they have a responsibility to give their full attention to the audience and their performance, but also towards the other artists on stage. How would you like it if the guy beside you was talking to someone during your big solo? If, this early, that kind of behavior is just let go, forgiven and forgotten, it will get worse. Trust me, I've seen it happen, and it definitely doesn't end pretty. And considering how Exo are being hyped to be extremely talented, if they don't have basic stage manners it will be a huge waste of their talent.

Yoon Mirae with Gary, Dynamic Duo, Jun Hyung (BEAST), Hoya (Infinite), Mir (MBLAQ), Taecyeon (2PM) - "Get It In"+"Monster"
And the award for the best singing of the night goes to Yoon Mirae. All these idols should be ashamed to call themselves singers after Yoon Mirae, who I believe raps majority of the time (the new times I've heard her material), out-sings them all without lifting a finger, by just by singing a few lines. Backing track, yes, but you know she's rapping and SINGING live, it's so obvious, but she does it so well that to untrained ears it may be a bit confusing. But apart from the strong vocals, she has the stage presence to not have to jump around too much. She still does towards the end, but she has a certain air to her that you know she's having so much fun and you want some of it too, but she still commands the stage, and all the guys sharing it with her. This, my friends, is a true performance.

2NE1 - "I Am The Best"+"Ugly"
I didn't like "I Am The Best", but like I always say, you have to watch 2NE1 for their material to make sense. It's not that their recordings are bad, because the production on them is outstanding, it's not that they can't sing, because my God can Minzy and CL sing, it's that their material is made to show off their strengths, and 2NE1's strengths lie in performance. They don't exactly run around stage because the majority of their performances are choreographed, but they have a command of it that's like no other. It's not just stage manners, or presence, it's really a command and it shows in everything -- the way they move, the way they sing. Pair that with a very creative and accommodating talent agency, and you have familiar, but stellar performance.

Brown Eyed Girls - "Sixth Sense"
I noticed that hardly any of my favorite performances were full remixes. But I guess that it's harder to perform a familiar arrangement and still make it sound interesting. But that's exactly what the Brown Eyed Girls did. Apart from adding a few bits and pieces (literally pits and pieces) all over the place, and adding a dance break, the base is still the same. This is one of the best girl group performances, and, like the entirety of their "Sixth Sense" promotions, performances, songs, singles, this is girl group master class. To all the girl groups trying to be sexy with skimpy, but cheap, outfits, to all the girl groups trying to be fierce but failing, to all the girl groups trying to sing while dancing, this, girls, is how it's done. Watch and learn.

BEAST - "Fiction"
They didn't really do much to the arrangement of "Fiction", just softened a few parts, added bits and pieces here and there, and switched some things around, but the basic mould of the song is still the same. And that's the selling point of the performance -- it's familiar. However, despite it being pretty simple, the modifications were enough to keep things fresh and not bore people to death. It's also a very straightforward performance, but in being simple it's also very well-sung. And considering how good a song "Fiction" is to start with, it's a good thing that they didn't experiment too much, but still had the foresight to prepare for it. Like I said a while ago, I prefer a simple, but prepared performance over an elaborate but haphazard one.

DBSK/HoMin - "Keep Your Head Down"+"MAXIMUM"
Call it unoriginal, because the dance part most probably is, call it boring, because there were no significant changes to the arrangements, but what you can't deny is that Yunho and Changmin know how to perform, and they showed it. They hold the audience in the palm of their hands and they know exactly what to do to make them go wild, but they never, ever, forget the musical aspect of it all. Screaming, yes, chanting and interacting, yes, but stopping to sing just for the sake of it? Never. That's the kind of stage deportment that newer acts, even Super Junior and SNSD, lack -- they lack concentration and choose dancing, waving and being cute over singing. Image is important, yes, and they take care of that too, but they are singers before anything else, and singing should always be first priority. Yunho and Changmin are what idols should be, and THIS is how it should be done.