The Unexpected Korean Invasion

by KV

Today, I am going to speak about K-Pop.

No, I’m not having a near-death epiphany. No, as far as I can recall I have not had any recent ear, brain or heart transplant. No, no one has hacked into my blog account & posted this blasphemy of an article.

But before I begin my case, let me slip in a quick word on a song that everyone’s been hyped-up about – Adele doing “Skyfall”, the latest Bond track. If no one is going to say it, then I’ll say it – DISAPPOINTING. I’m gonna get a lot of flak about this (well I’m gonna get even more flak after you finish reading till the end of this entry, but save that for later), because I seem to be the only one who thinks “Skyfall” is not as good as everyone thinks it is. Fret not for this is of no fault of the untouchable Adele, or Daniel Craig (fine, takde kaitan). Listen to it properly & you should realize that the song is just a mundane Bond theme rehash. Yes, Adele’s always-brilliant vocals lends some credibility to it, but the song’s rather ho-hum.

BACK TO THE TOPIC PLEASE? WHAT THE HECK WAS IT YOU WERE SAYING ABOUT THE KOREANS?

Yea, about that. So back to the world domination of the Koreans. I’m not going to touch on my eternal love for Janice & Sonia of Jayesslee. Nor am I referring to the giants of Samsung, or the emergence of Hyundai’s cheap plastics challenging the equally cheap plastics of Honda & the even cheaper plastics of Toyota. I’m certainly not going to reinforce the impact of the dreaded Korean pretty-boy-disease (you know, that disease that makes men look like lesbian women but women still fall for them, so basically everyone will end up looking like women by the time the world ends?) that’s spreading all the way here. I’m not even touching on a specific topic.

I’m touching on 9.

Yes, the bandwagon has long left & replaced by a giant jumbo plane, but I’ve finally discovered my soft spot for SNSD/Girls’ Generation.

SAY WHAT?!

Yup, still me here, completely normal, no brain seizure or anything.

Now, let me be clear. I am completely aware that this is going against all of my beliefs for the past 2 decades of my mature life. 9 girls in a group? Manufactured artists? Cutesy outfits? Generally mediocre vocals? No songwriting or instrumental skill & credits? All check check check.

THEN WHAT IS IT THEN?!

Let me enter my defense. I do not see SNSD as musicians or singers. Take a step back & look at them as entertainers. Now you get a whole different picture. Dang, here I am, sheepishly admitting that I have to eat my own bloody words. Humble pie is served.

Trust me, they are not just another typical K-pop dancing group. Well okay, they are, but wait, they have something extra – they are really really genuinely likeable. Hmm, not a very strong case point is it? Try multiplying that likeability factor by 9, & you get a better idea. Look at them individually, & all you see are just decent, normal-looking girls making a living doing what they do best. & yes, turns out I’ve been wrong all this while – they don’t all look alike, in fact each of them have charming contrasting individual traits of their own! Humble pie no.2!

BUT…BUT…THESE ARE EXACTLY THE TYPICAL TYPE OF ARTISTS YOU WOULD CRUCIFY, BURN IN THE FURNACE TO BITS!

Ok, calm down. Strip off those outrageously addictive dance choreography in “Gee”, “Hoot”, “Genie” (well, basically almost all their music videos), those stunning supernatural legs, the whole “cheerleader effect”. Put aside their fluffy pop songs, or the fact that they sound less-than-stellar live except when they lip-sync. I like this group very much. I truly enjoy the girls as people. In fact, I’ve been having even more of a good time watching their heartfelt interviews, their hilarious antics during those ridiculously-addictive variety shows & their many “reality” stories compared to their immensely popular music videos on Youtube. You gotta check out their appearances in shows like Star Golden Bell, Star King, Running Man, Beatles Code, Night Star, Family Outing…the list is really long. My favourite has to be their shout-fest in Intimate Note though.

In case you can’t identify them. Took me considerable effort to. But not they’re impossible to forget.

I don’t even care about all the general hate & criticism splashed on them on their lack of originality, or all that talk about plastic surgery, that everything is staged & gimmicky. Never mind the fact that I don’t understand a word of their songs or when they speak, except “SNSD, fighting!”. BECAUSE I DON’T GIVE A DAMN. THEY MAKE ME HAPPY. PERIOD. Because what I see are 9 hardworking women who are such a pleasing vision on screen, a shining beacon of the female species, a triumphant…ok, you get where I’m going. The point is, they are natural during interviews, laughing (more like guffawing violently, really), making a fool of themselves, poking constantly at each other without an ounce of embarrassment, almost nonchalantly. It might be all just acting, with all the pressure of upholding-the-image & all, but they project no sense of pretension or falseness. & I like that.

Yes, they make me smile. None more than Kim Taeyeon.

The standout – Taeyeon

No, this is not a Bang & Olufsen advert. But it sure is an effective one without being one.

She’s not the most attractive of women, but as you watch & listen to more of her, it is bloody impossible to not fall for her! I struggle to reach out for superlatives other than those that are already over-used by fans who adore her just as much. Dorky, cute, yada yada yada. All true. & it goes without saying she is the best singer of the lot (not saying much, as far as I can tell only Taeyeon, Tiffany & SeoHyun can really sing anyway), & among the best from her country. Queen of the drama soundtracks. I love this girl to bits. I love how endearing & expressive she can be, yet still be reserved & understated; a quiet steely leader. This is a girl who makes the whole group (& the planet) smile when she smiles.When she cries, it’s almost like the end of the world.

The legendary adorable-gawky side of Taeyeon, unleashed. She’s so cute you just wanna put her in your pocket.

& she can look insanely hot too – “Run Devil Run” video

This is truly one of the most invigoratingly fascinating artist I have ever come across.

HMMM…THIS I GOTTA AGREE. SPOT-ON.

Her vocals are solid, but they are not exactly out of this world either. Lea Salonga & Fan Wei Qi still ranks above her in my Asians vocal list. In fact, I didn’t even idenitfy her X-factor (for the lack of a better word, I apologize) until I listened to her drama soundtracks & her solo live performances. There are times she does not really hit all the high notes precisely, but they are always breathtaking – it’s the way she casts aside her persona & all the reservations & expected formality, & pours her all into the songs she performs. The sensitivity & delicate poignancy in her chilling delivery during her live performances are just beautiful.

So far, “Closer” & “If” are my personal standouts from her

Of course, in SNSD, Taeyeon’s not the only star. I adore Tiffany’s husky vocals & that stunning eye-smile as much as any other SNSD’s crazed fans. Sweet Yoona is always a favourite with everyone, & I like how honest & humble she is during their interviews. Not a fan of Jessica’s weak vocals, but her slow ‘dumb-blonde’ antics are quite a hoot during those game shows.

Tiffany’s infamous eye-smile & wink

Yoona, probably the one with the biggest fan base

Sigh. On any other day, I would not have believed that I would reach this point in my life. & trust me, even I couldn’t trust myself, which is why I had given myself a couple of weeks to diagnose myself before coming to this unspeakable conclusion. This is not a sudden crush-at-first-sight, as I remember the first time I saw SNSD was 2-3 years back, their hand-made-by-Angels legs on display in their “Genie” video, playing on a 51-inch 3D Samsung LED TV at a Samsung fair in 1Utama, & it wasn’t until now that their spell finally worked on me. My better half has constantly ridiculed & poked fun at me, & friends have not been too kind either. I remember mentioning to San Yin during the first week of this phase that “at least their songs have not entered my car audio”. Because that is the ultimatum. When music gets inducted into my car audio, it’s like winning a Grammy.

Well, serve me humble pie no.3 because it took just another 2 weeks from that point before 17 of SNSD’s bubbly, harmless songs (plus 5 solo tracks of Taeyeon’s & 1 from TTS) survived my QC & auspiciously infiltrated my car USB playlist. Alarm triggered!

THANK YOU SO MUCH, WHAT AN HONOUR…CAN’T BELIEVE 9 GIRLS COULD SQUEEZE INTO A CAR RADIO…

Perhaps, this is indeed a phase that needs getting over with. An early-life-crisis of sorts. Perhaps this is just an aftermath of my dreadful spine condition. Perhaps, this is a side effect of all the physiotherapy sessions & medications. Perhaps I’ve really hit rock bottom & gone bonkers. Perhaps my music tastes, something I’ve pride myself with, something of which I have set standards so high, have gone haywire.

Let me check – nope, still despise Bieber & Minaj.

But that’s the thing, I don’t really care. It’s a little like falling in love –  you don’t know why, you can’t explain it, but you are just in love & you feel like the sunshine is shining out of holes you’d never find sunshine in. I’d eat my 4th humble pie right now because at the end of the day, watching & listening to Taeyeon & her 8 wonderful members carves a loopy, guilty smile on my face. It radiates a flutter of warmth to my heart & chest, & exudes significant relief to the burdening pain of my work life & my worrisome screwed-up spine. Now isn’t that what music is supposed to be for? It has always been for an acquired taste, at the right moment & mood. Thus at this point of my life – when playing the piano & strumming my guitar is not enough of an satisfaction anymore, when driving around in Sonia (the car, not the twin) is not quite enough too, when Jayesslee has no new video updates – apparently, 9 Korean girls led by Kim Taeyeon are just exactly what the therapist ordered, exactly I want & need.

This has been quite an eye-opening confession, I must say! Still, it’s not a KV revolution of course, I still detest & do not comprehend the noise of K-pop in general. But let’s just say SNSD (& specifically, Taeyeon) has not only earned my love, even more, they have earned my respect. This online fan quote summarizes the vision I’m having in my head right at this moment best. It was during their pre-debut days more than 5 years ago, when the girls were given a day off. While the rest of the members went to relax & do some shopping,  young Taeyeon walked around alone, standing at a bridge overlooking a river:

“Remember Kim Taeyeon, 2007, just a scared young girl with big dreams, standing at the bridge alone shouting ‘I can do it!’. No one knew who she was and no one would stop by to listen.

Five years later, she is the leader of Korea’s national girl group, a girl who made her dreams come true, standing on the most prestigious stages with eight others as Girls’ Generation. The name everyone has come to know, respect and love. And when she sings, the world listens.

Kim Taeyeon, you did it.”

A bold statement, but a fitting one. Gotta give credit where it is due, these girls are sure hardworking.

I don’t know how long this childish infatuation will last, but I know it makes me gleeful for now. But you should not trust me too much. After all, I do seem like the only person on this planet that disapproves of Adele’s “Skyfall”.

In case you still need convincing of Taeyeon’s awesomeness, here’s a look at her amazing “Devil’s Cry” intro before “Run Devil Run” during their Japan Tour last year. Always gives me the chills.