상상은 여권이 필요없는 여행이다
SHINee, “Music Box”
My take on “오르골” is in the last paragraph, because this will be an incredibly extensive and roundabout but nevertheless relevant narration of my induction into kpop fandom and fluxuating interest in SHINee:
The first kpop video I ever watched was either Super Junior’s “Happiness” or TVXQ’s “Balloons,” because my friend showed them to me. Being new to kpop and thus not yet having bought into the cultures embedded in the genre, I did not buy the man-aegyo. At all. But I’m not always quick to pass final judgement, so I went swimming through YouTube links and found the first kpop video I liked: BIGBANG’s “La La La.” It was cute, but it was cute in a different way. They had a hip hop edge that, instead of focusing on the cuteness itself, just happened to be cute while emphasizing the music. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure why I felt that way but there you go.
But that didn’t cause me to fall into the deep, deep rabbit hole that is kpop. Instead, it made me say, “Yeah, I like that one song by BIGBANG.” I didn’t faceplant until I clicked on a link posted by one of my Korean friends… a link that lead to MBLAQ’s “Y.” THAT was the irrecoverable tipping point. I realized that not all kpop music videos are cute, and there can also be strong, dark themes running through songs and videos. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got.
In my YouTube link explorations, I was exposed to DJ Masa who frequently mixes kpop songs with Western songs, in addition to weaving numerous kpop songs into one amazing mix. It was one of the former songs that mixed a couple Korean songs, including a song by SHINee, with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The SHINee was “Ring Ding Dong,” and it immediately caught my attention. I was a little late to the party because 1. it had taken DJ Masa a while to mix the songs and 2. I didn’t watch his video until it had been available for a while. Nevertheless, I sought out the full song and video and very quickly became a fan. I think they were even the first group where I learned every member’s name and could identify them even after their extreme makeovers for a comeback. But that came later.
DJ Masa’s “Smells Like Easy Ding Dong” (LOL!):
Basically, I fell in love with SHINee for their more aggressive appearance and sound in “Ring Ding Dong.” In retrospect, I also feel like this is one of their more mainstream-kpop sounding songs. When I went to discover what they had released in the past, I was less impressed but still intrigued by “Juliette,” “산소 같은 너,” and “누나 너무 예뻐” (the last one was particularly endearing). These had a distinct style that was very different from “Ring Ding Dong.” When the next song they released was “Lucifer,” I thought those songs were in the past and that they had developed a new sound that I appreciated a great deal more.
At this point, I started to figure out kpop company politics. I started to understand what it meant for a group to be from SM, YG, or JYP, and the disadvantages of coming from a company outside of these three. I want to be perfectly transparent in my biases: the fact that SHINee was from SM put a tiny, almost infinitesimal black mark on their name. It didn’t make them any less talented, but the awareness that they probably had a very limited input in the creative process, and the absolute obsessive drive for perfection that permeates SM is just not something I value.
Then “Sherlock” came out. I thought the dance was ok, the song was ok, but it was very difficult for me to get excited about it. “Sherlock” was followed by “Dream Girl,” which sounded like they had recycled a song from their “Juliette” days. I thought my enthusiasm was being sedated by SM, but by this time I just genuinely felt that I didn’t really like their style of music anymore.
By the time SHINee released “Why So Serious?” I had stopped paying attention to their promotions. “Why So Serious?” was actually a song I couldn’t make up my mind about – it started off so well and I really loved the rock tones of the track… until it hit the chorus, which was an absolute disaster. Pretty much anybody who listens to kpop these days has now replaced GD for the Joker as the first thing they think of when they hear the phrase, “Why so serious,” and SHINee completely failed to supplant GD in the “Why so serious” space race. Plus, the chorus does not match the entire rest of the song. If they changed the song, I would have been dancing all around my apartment to “Why So Serious?” as soon as it was released.
“Why So Serious?”
BUT, like I said, I don’t frequently make final judgments so quickly. It’s not like SHINee is irredeemable, and their track “오르골” from the same album as “Why So Serious?” proves that. I love the way in which the slightly staccato music reflects the theme of a music box without actually being the sound of a music box. The way each member’s vocals softly flow together and contrast with the short notes is interesting, and the subdued raps really work well with the mood of the song without overpowering anything. Seriously solid song. It really is fitting for what I consider the more experimental group of SM.