13. Boyfriend, “Love Style”. I’m in the throes of a Sweetune obsession, and this song epitomizes why: catchy melodies, sparkly synths, hooks everywhere. That said, it also epitomizes Sweetune’s weaknesses - it does the same “let’s stop the song to change the key” thing that KARA’s “Step” does, but without being brave enough to really go for it.
11. EXO-K, “Mama”. From the beginning, everything about the EXO project has been ambitious, extravagant, oversized, and coordinated down to the last detail. It’s only natural that their debut single is all of those things too.
10. B.A.P, “Power”. In which power is the sum of confidence, control, and total commitment.
9. Dalmatian, “E.R”. Dalmatian’s previous singles were fluffy and fun, so it’s a pleasant surprise that they can do angsty melodrama just as well. (They’re like Sistar in this regard.) Big Bang and Beast have been herebefore, of course, but neither quite as mournful nor as willfully optimistic.
8. f(x), “Electric Shock”. This is where I confess that I don’t love f(x) nearly as much as I’m supposed to, because to me their singles (yes, even the great "NU ABO") always have that one tangent too many, the same thing Super Junior’s been plagued by post-“Bonamana”. But “Electric Shock” is the opposite: it’s so unified, so self-contained, as if everything was carved from the same block of marble right down to the syllables.
7. Hello Venus, “Venus”. “Venus” thumbs its nose at the millenia-old dichotomy of cute girl group/fierce girl group (which is only code for another millenia-old dichotomy imposed on women, anyway). Instead, it brings a stompy minor-key cheerleader chant into a sisterly bond with a resolutely sunny chorus. V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!
6. Teen Top, “To You”. Breezy but not insubstantial, youthful but not immature, catchy as hell.
5. Wonder Girls, “Like This”. One of the only songs that can make me forget myself and dance while walking down the street. (Please don’t use this against me.)
2. 4minute, “Volume Up”. Because K-pop is having a “music for grownups” moment and 4minute totally called it.
1. Sistar, “Alone”. There’s not really much I can say about this song other than that it is perfect sad summer disco. So since this blog is also about my ongoing personal development, it’s an important milestone that I could understand about 10% of the lyrics right away without looking up the translation (mostly the chorus - “I eat alone, I sing alone, I watch TV alone, today I’m alone”). If you squint, this could say something about its universal appeal, but that’s apparent from the sound itself.
Xia (Junsu), “Tarantallegra”. For his solo career, JYJ’s Junsu may go by the stage name he used as a member of TVXQ/DBSK (before the whole thing went pear-shaped), but it’s clear that he’s in charge: he had a hand in a majority of the songs on his new full-length album including this one, and there’s a sense of artistic freedom about this song and video, perhaps due to the fact that JYJ is banned from performing on South Korea’s three major networks, more or less ensuring that this video will not be aired.
"Tarantallegra" definitely feels auteur-driven, albeit in the narrowest, most casual sense of what we associate with "auteur-driven": offbeat, indulgent, individual, and compelling, if sometimes in danger of confusing being strange with being smart. The main star is Junsu’s boomy production, which throws clattering synths and rapper Flowsik’s guttural mouth sounds over stormy timpani rolls and distant lower brass notes. There’s almost no mid range to speak of, resulting in an odd mix of clutter and empty space. The Autotune seems incidental, like it just happened to land on his voice (which sounds as good as it ever did). There’s no part of it that drags; it’s constantly changing, adding new textures.
And then there’s the video. Its style looks similar to every big-ticket JYJ/DBSK video we’ve seen in the past ("Ayyy Girl", even DBSK’s post-Junsu "왜 (Keep Your Head Down)"), but whereas those videos emphasized the masculinity and masculine power of their stars, in “Tarantallegra” there’s a fluidity around sexuality and gender presentation. I’m curious as to how much input Junsu had into the video, but its various scenes feel guided by a unified vision in the way that Lady Gaga’s videos do.
To make a less lazy comparison than the Gaga one, I would contrast this video with DBSK’s "Mirotic", which also deals with sexuality (and dark, vaguely fantastical sets) but in a completely different way. In “Mirotic”, the DBSK members are presented as the objects of the camera’s gaze, but reluctantly, with the faceless woman as the “evil” force that has (sometimes literally) restrained them in this position. The video ends with the members chasing down and defeating this objectifying force, becoming active instead of passive. In “Tarantallegra”, meanwhile, Junsu is a cooperative participant in his own objectification, active and passive. At 1:35, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of what appears to be Junsu pointing a camera at himself, and the resulting view through the camera is shown immediately afterward; the viewer both is him and is looking at him.
His presentation emphasizes this fluidity of sexuality. The outfits in “Mirotic” are more revealing, but they emphasize the members’ arms, shoulders, and chests, and are dark and plain, undecorated, and based on suits. By contrast, Junsu’s “Tarantallegra” outfits look slim and highly decorative, with glitter and buckles. They recall womenswear more than menswear: the long jackets with flared bottoms look almost like dresses, especially that floor-length white one. And then there’s the point where he is actually dressed as a woman (1:54), in a long wig and with casual makeup, rather than the heavy, stagey eye makeup he wears in other scenes. As well, there’s parts where he seems to be identified with the female backup dancers, like at 1:50, where the dancer seems to be lip-synching. In the scenes during the rap break where the dancers are all over him (at 2:36), the shape of his black sweater and necklace echoes their leotards (and we don’t see him from the waist down, so the illusion is perpetuated); again, he is simultaneously the object of the women’s attention and a willing participant in his objectification (as he appears to be one of them).
I’m curious as to how this vision will translate in future projects from Junsu. I’m hoping it’s not just a one-off, as there’s something genuinely interesting going on here; but at the same time, I’m not sure how much further he can go in this direction than this.