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Fahrenheit (TW) and DBSK (KR): It's like comparing heaven and earth

The “Korean Wave” is unstoppable! It started with BoA and Rain, then DBSK, Super Junior, Big Bang, and now 2PM, SNSD, and more! Korean artists took over Japan, Taiwan, China, Thailand, and now is even encroaching upon the American music industry. KPop is the word!

I am an unabashedly big fan of KPop, and it’s not just because the singers look handsome/pretty or their songs have ridiculously addictive melodies and rhythms (which is what KPop is stereotypically known for). The truth of the matter is, compared to the other Asian music industries, the Korean music industry has evolved a “fool-proof” system to nurture their artists to become world-class performers. I listen to mandopop, cantopop, jpop, and english pop, and none of the artists in those industries are as versatile or multi-talented as KPop artists, and I say its due to a difference in how their music industries are structured.

1. KPop artists go through a trainee system

There are basically three top record companies in KPop: SM, YG, JYP. Each of them has a rigorous trainee system to prepare would-be singers for their debut. Trainees get singing lessons, dance training, even language lessons, and many of them stay as trainees for years before they officially debut. For example, Jokwon from the ballad group 2AM was a JYP trainee for EIGHT years before he debuted, and G-Dragon and Taeyang of Big Bang have been with YG Ent since their pre-teen days. If you’re good enough to become a trainee, then you’re sort of admitted to this prestigious university for KPop stardom, and you can only get better from there. I think this system also breeds more well-rounded artists. Vocally strong trainees get dance training, and dance-focused trainees get voice training, and gradually they become quite competent at both!

Contrast this to the Taiwan or HK music industries…sigh…I even feel a little ashamed to talk about it. Look at F4 or Fahrenheit, these two immensely popular boybands were basically formed for their looks. They chose guys who can’t sing, dance, or act, and packaged them in this fancy good-looking image and released albums to further their popularity in dramas. I’m sorry, but I remember watching Fahrenheit perform at Asia Song Festival a few years back, and I cringed at their sloppy dance moves and horrible live singing. They just looked like amateurs compared to DBSK, who also performed at the event. And if you consider Korea’s trainee system, you can’t really blame Fahrenheit for being horrible. Each DBSK member had an average 2-3 years of trainee experience before debut, whereas Fahrenheit had none. Korea’s music industry makes a huge investment in their artists before debut, while the artists in other regions don’t really receive systematic training to become singers.

2. KPop’s music promotion structure relies on live performances

KPop artists promote their songs mainly via live music performance programs. Yes they also release music videos, but I’d say the live performances are what really sustains a given song’s popularity.  Each of Korea’s major networks have their own weekly live music programs (Inkigayo, Music Bank, Music Core, Mnet Countdown), and there are also regular concerts and award programs held throughout the year. So think about it, when  KPop artists release a song, they have to perform it live (with legit sound equipment and fancy lighting) in front of an audience at least 4 times a week! And each promotion cycle for a single lasts at least 2-3 months. You can do the math. KPop artists get A LOT of practice and experience performing in front of audiences. And with so many performances, Kpop artists have the room to experiment and develop their stage presence.

The JPop industry also has live performance programs, but they’re not as rigorous or demanding as the Korean programs. And let’s not even talk about Taiwan or HK. These two regions pretty much rely on music videos to promote music. Artists go on variety/talk shows to verbally promote their albums. In fact, if a given album has about 11 songs, 7-8 of them will be turned into MVs, which I think is evidence that they’re dependent on MVs to maintain exposure for the artist. In terms of live music programs, HK has only one, Jade Solid Gold, and every artist who goes to sing on that show always sound more horrible than usual, they must have a very bad sound system. And in Taiwan, there are no shows dedicated only to music performance. The only opportunities where artists can actually perform their songs are at variety programs, and you can guess that the performance space and sound equipment are pretty crappy. So not only are Taiwan and HK artists inexperienced to begin with, they don’t have any opportunities to practice their craft in front of live audiences! Practice makes perfect, and if you can’t learn through practice, you just don’t improve! For example, Show Luo is one of the hottest male singers in Taiwan right now, but when I saw him sing a fast song live at an award show, he was huffing and puffing and out of tune, and he has been in the music business for over 15 years! I mean I like him and all, but his live performances are not even on par with those of SHINee, who are teenagers and just debuted in Korea a year ago.

Basically, Kpop artists get exponentially more practice both behind and in front of the camera. I remember in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, he claimed that in order to become super good at a given skill, the magic amount of time to invest is 10,000 hours! In other words, if you dedicate 10,000 hours of your life to a skill, you’ll become pro at it. I’d say KPop artists are MUCH MUCH closer to reaching those 10,000 hours than artists in other regions. And you wonder why KPop has taken the world by storm…

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Supplemental evidence:

To give you an idea of how many performances KPop artists do, below are two collage mvs of DBSK and 2PM’s numerous performances for their songs:

DBSK’s Wrong Number: just look at how many diff suits they wore! The recording is ripped from a live perf as well, and they sound pitch perfect even with the rigorous dancing!

2PM’s Heartbeat: just look at the different versions of the endings!

And now, I dare you to search any Jay Chou/Jolin/Leehom song on youtube…and I bet most of the results will be MVs and you can count the number of live perf results with your fingers.

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If you don’t know who Eason Chan is, he is one of the most famous HK singers in the Chinese music industry. I personally really did not like him for the longest time because he looked like a pimp/gangster. But then I started listening to his songs, and I started to really appreciate his style and delivery.

He sings a lot of songs that tell a story, like 谢谢侬 and Last Order, and those are the songs that I like best from him. His new mandarin album has an all English song called Nothing Ever Happened. It grabbed me almost immediately, and the song, though simple in both music and lyrics, evokes an anguish that’s so real and heartfelt. Props to the songwriter!

Even though it’s a guy song, I thought it’d be interesting to interpret it through a girl’s voice. I raised the key, and made it a girl song. I hope I did the song justice 🙂

 

Want to hear the original male version? Download it here.

Eason Chan- Fifth Floor's Happiness

Mozart is still alive and well in pop music today

People don’t usually associate Classical music and pop music together. For most of us, music from Classical composers like Mozart rests on a totally different tier from the trendy pop music of today. But I can’t help but notice that pop music likes to borrow melodies from Classical music. Just an example: the melody from the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony 40 in G minor is prominently featured in quite a few pop songs in Asia.

If you’re not familiar with Mozart’s Symphony 40, I’m sure that once you hear it, you’ll recognize it. It’s a famous melody that has sort of seeped into society’s consciousness. The motif is marked by a descending melody comprised of series of 2 eighth notes and 1 quarter note. Because the music in a minor key, the music lends a moody, dramatic and suspenseful atmosphere. The momentum inherent in the music really tugs at the listener’s emotions.

Main Theme from first movement of Mozart's Symphony 40

Click here to listen to the original symphony by Mozart.

Now get ready to hear totally different reincarnations of that memorable melody.

In 2004, the Korean boyband TVXQ came out with a rock song called “Tri-angle” that borrowed the  exact original instrumentation of the symphony as their song’s musical accompaniment. Mozart’s melody maintains it’s prominence throughout the song, even though the pop song itself has its own melody. The song itself is talking about disillusionment with society, very existentialist actually.  So in that way, I think using the melody from Symphony 40 makes sense because it evokes that dramatic, moody, and profound feel. I think it’s a clever use of Mozart’s famous melody; betcha never thought Mozart can be rock eh?

In 2005, the Taiwanese girlband S.H.E came out with a pop song called “Don’t Want to Grow Up (不想长大).” This time, Mozart’s melody is used for the chorus of the pop song itself. They basically inserted lyrics into Mozart’s melody. You can also feel this dramatic/disillusioned quality in the song, especially since its talking about not wanting to grow up because it means losing innocence, purity, and idealistic dreams. So I guess it’s a reasonable application of Mozart’s melody, but I thought the cutesy voices of the singers really didn’t fit…

In 2006, the Korean drama “My Girl” featured a song in it’s OST called “Never Say Goodbye.” This song puts a funky hip-hop spin on Mozart’s melody. The upbeat rhythm and rapping gives Mozart’s melody a completely different character, but the message of the song is ultimately still more serious, about unrequited love. So even though the song sounds happy, the lyrics are actually quite depressing. Maybe the music writers chose Mozart’s melody as a reminder of the serious message of the song.

It’s kind of interesting how pop music ripped off Mozart’s Symphony 40 for three years consecutively. What do you think? Did they use Mozart’s melody effectively?

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Here are the respective pop songs for you to listen and compare:

Everyday is a Holiday is the first solo I had after joining Treblemakers, so again this song has some sentimental value for me. Because I’m nostalgic, I sang this song again.

It’s a pretty light jazzy song, and it’s from the soundtrack of the movie Down with Love starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. Looking at the poster for the movie, I’d say the music fits the film pretty well ^^

Esthero is not a mainstream well-known singer, but I think she has a pretty unique voice. She’s from Canada, and has reddish-orange hair and a very sultry voice. She reminds me of Dido.

 

Michael Buble just came out with his new album called “Crazy Love” on Oct 13. In true Buble style, his new album reinvents some famous tunes. One in particular, I noticed, is from the famous 1950’s movie, Singin’ in the Rain. It’s called “All I Do Is Dream of You”

In Singin’ in the Rain, this song appears near the beginning where Debbie Reynold’s character jumps out of a cake and starts singing this song at a movie premiere reception. The movie version of this song is very cheerful, energetic, and cute. It has very vibrant instrumentation, with fanfare-like trumpets. And of course, it comes complete with Broadway-like choreography. The image that this song evoked to me is of a young girl who has a crush on a man, and dreamily thinks of him all the time.

The Movie version: 

In Buble’s new album, this song has a much more laid-back feel. It is jazzier, with male background accompaniment, a walking bass line, and a swing rhythm. Buble adds his own ad-libs and even some jazz scatting. The atmosphere as evoked by this version is completely different, more of a man who is at the beginning of a relationship and is constantly thinking of his new girlfriend.

Michael Buble’s Version:

You may have guessed already, this song dates back even before Singin’ in the Rain. “All I Do is Dream of You” was first published in 1934! The music was composed by Nacio Herb Brown, and lyrics by Arthur Freed.

For me, I have always loved that dance number from Singin in the Rain, so I was very pleasantly surprised to hear Michael Buble give his rendition. He added a whole other dimension to the song, and I love this song even more now.

The age of boy bands seemed have passed in the world of American pop music (Jonas Brothers totally don’t count). But back in the glorious days of 1998-2001, boy bands pretty much ruled the world. For college-age girls like me, the memories of dancing, good-looking, heart throb boys still bring me incredible nostalgia. And when it comes to the issue of Nsync vs Backstreet boys, I have a pretty strong opinion. I love both, but Nsync is so much better in so many respects. Since this is a music blog, I’m just going to solely focus on music.

Musically, Nsync actually sang as a group. They did intricate harmonies and acappella, and that brings their musical caliber up tremendously. If you listen to some of Nsync acappella tracks, like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “I Thought She Knew”, their musical talent really comes through. The impeccable blending of their voices requires intense teamwork and practice. Backstreet Boys is a group of soloists who sometimes sang in very simple harmonies, and that quite frankly requires much less effort to do. Ask Backstreet Boys to sing acappella, I don’t think they’ll sound good at all. Nsync is so much more just a group of pretty-boys, they were actually very capable musicians. Even in their more mainstream songs, like “This I’ll Promise You”, they still incorporated harmonies and layering.

I also think Nsync are much better dancer-singers. Their choreography was usually much more intricate than those of Backstreet Boys. If you compare BSB’s “Larger Than Life” and Nsync’s “Pop“, you’ll see a pretty obvious difference. BSB’s moves were kinda cheesy, on the beat, and the moves repeat. Nsync’s moves were more hip, a lot faster, and more syncopated. And considering they both sang live, we should give Nsync more credit because they were dancing the entire time, while BSB sorta just stood around while their back-up dancers did most of the work. Of course, compared to some of the dance choreography of today, both Nsync and BSB’s dances just look tooo easy…

The members of Nsync have more unique voice qualities with more personality. When you hear Justin or JC sing, you immediately know who’s who. In BSB, it can take a while before you can distinguish the members’ voices. It took me a while to differentiate Brian and AJ’s voices, because they’re both so husky. And BSB’s voices are not particularly memorable (maybe except for Nick), but in Nsync, you’ll remember their voices pretty quick because they’re so discernible.

For too long, Nsync is just seen as another boy band when their musical talent is on a whole other level than the other boy bands of the time. Sure Backstreet Boys came first and they got the boy band machine going, but Nsync added so much to that genre. If they weren’t labelled as a pop boy band, I think Nsync could easily be on the same playing field as Boys II Men, and I can’t say the same for Backstreet Boys.

*Bonus gift: Nsync with Phil Collins- Trashin’ the Camp (megaupload) To show you Nsync’s intense harmony and blending skills. The song is from the OST to Disney’s Tarzan. Enjoy 🙂

So I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it about three years ago. Jamelle Fraley is not a well-known artist, but this song became quite popular in Korea because Jang Ri In did a Korean/Chinese version of this called Y (Why…), and that’s also how I found out about Jamelle Fraley. I personally think the English version is more powerful, and the lyrics suit the music much better.

Freshman year, I auditioned for Treblemakers with this song, and I got in! So I guess it does have special meaning for me. Granted, it’s a super super hard song to sing, the high notes at the end go up really high and I’ve only recently been able to hit them comfortably. But anyway, this is my style of singing, pretty R&B. What do you think?

If you wanna know more about Jamelle, she has a myspace: http://www.myspace.com/jamellefraley. I think she deserves more attention.

For more about Northwestern Treblemakers, check us out at our website or our youtube channel