Tag Archives: music review

Live: WAPOP [Collaboration of K-Drama and K-Pop]

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Dance performance team Blue Whale Brothers performs in the WAPOP concert at Children’s Grand Park. SCREAMfmLondon

When a friend offered me free tickets to a “k-drama k-pop concert thing” called WAPOP, I, of course, just had to go see the live combination of these forms of entertainment.

WAPOP is an ongoing event that takes place at 8 p.m. every single Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The name comes from some strange combination of “Wow Pop” and “World & Asia,” and the event is clearly marketed toward tourists specifically from China. The website is offered in Chinese, Korean and Japanese, but a lot of the pre-show content deals with the relationship between South Korea and China, and a lot of the dialogue is in Mandarin.

The performers change from night to night, but the current players frequently include 24K (my favorite rookie group from last year’s Dream Concert!), A.Cian (my favorite rookie group from this year’s Dream Concert!), Bloomy and Minx.

In addition to the k-pop concert, WAPOP also offers live k-drama performances, b-boy dancing, and wild laser light tricks. The whole thing is virtually hosted by actor Lee Byung-hun, who escorts the audience on a train ride through space and time via incredibly deluxe 260-degree panorama video projection.

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The duo Meivley performs a song from the original soundtrack of the popular drama “Descendants of the Sun.” SCREAMfmLondon

When I imagined “live k-drama,” I basically just figured they’d show an episode of “Boys Over Flowers” on the big screen and be done with it. However, the k-drama bits are, in fact, very cool. The big screen is used to show key scenes from popular shows like “My Love From Another Star” and “Descendants of the Sun” while live musicians and dancers perform dramatic scenes on the stage.

When Lee Byung-hun first drops us off in the Joseon Dynasty for some Korean culture, the historical drama is augmented with hip-hop dancing to the tune of a traditional Korean stringed instrument, the gayaguem. The k-drama scenes make great use of the stage and the theater’s technology.

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Minx performs T-ara’s “Roly Poly” onstage at the WAPOP concert. SCREAMfmLondon

In between each k-drama performance, a different rookie idol group takes the stage to perform a few songs — usually two original songs and one cover.

On the night I attended, girl group Bloomy performed first, introducing original songs “흥칫뿡” and “Because of You,” which are both surprisingly excellent. The group is really new (they debuted in February), but the performance was legit. The second girl group, Minx, was less impressive, but they performed a fun cover of T-ara’s hit song “Roly Poly,” so that was something.

A.Cian, the only boy group that night, closed the event. I remember loving their catchy single “Touch” the last time I saw them live, and they delivered again at the WAPOP concert. Their dancing is over-the-top cute, their outfits are over-the-top stupid, and they are overflowing with fanservice. The perfect combination. They, naturally, closed the show with a cover of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” because that’s what you do when you’re targeting an audience of tourists.

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A.Cian performs their single “Touch” at the WAPOP concert. SCREAMfmLondon

I actually really enjoyed the whole show, and I ended up downloading both A.Cian’s and Bloomy’s albums when I got home. Loved it and would totally do it again.

That being said, I have no idea who the hell would pay $70 for this experience. There are a million opportunities to see huge k-pop stars perform for free. So why would anyone pay this price to see some random rookie acts perform two songs alongside a video projection of Lee Byung-hun? If they sell any tickets at all, that blows my mind.

But WAPOP is a cool experience, really. I would pay, like… five bucks to see it again.

WAPOP
238 Neungdong-ro Gwangjin-gu
8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
Tickets range from 50,000 to 70,000 KRW
For more information, visit www.wapophall.com.

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Live: Big Bang ‘MADE’ World Tour Final in Seoul

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G-Dragon performs onstage at Big Bang’s MADE World Tour final concert in Seoul on March 6. SCREAMfmLondon

Last year, I saw the first two concerts of Big Bang’s MADE World Tour, where the group introduced the first singles from the “MADE” album series. Over the past few months, Big Bang’s “MADE” songs have dominated the charts and racked up awards while the band has performed a record-breaking tour around the world (the biggest k-pop show held in Canada, the largest k-pop arena tour in the US, the largest crowd a foreign artist has drawn in Japan).

On Sunday, March 6, Big Bang officially performed the final MADE concert back home at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. The final show (the last of three Seoul concerts this weekend) was livestreamed worldwide and reached more than 3 million viewers. For those of us in town, the sold-out shows inspired fans to queue for hours in the pouring rain hoping for last-minute tickets (yes, including me, hello).

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Taeyang performs at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul on March 6. SCREAMfmLondon

The show opened and closed with a bang — three, to be precise. “Bang Bang Bang” was the unofficial song of 2015, sweeping year-end awards and blowing everyone’s minds with its powerful chorus, extraordinary lyrics, and ultra-catchy dance beats. The song’s best lines set the tone for the night’s atmosphere: “Today, this place is lawless. / I’ll set this place on fire to burn up your heart. / I wanna make you go crazy.” Let’s go!

Throughout the night, Big Bang powered through the majority of their “MADE” hits including “Sober” (during which the band members donned fabulous glittery jackets of varying styles), the heart-breaking ballad “If You,” and “Zutter,” the amazing hip-hop duet featuring G-Dragon and T.O.P. Last April, Big Bang introduced “Bae Bae” and “Loser,” the tracks from the first “MADE” EP, at the Seoul concerts. This time around, the group performed “Bae Bae” twice, and fans throughout the arena held up signs proclaiming “Big Bang is my everything.”

The band members treated Korean fans to their usual solo stages as well as some additional silliness. Seungri performed a dance to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and self-proclaimed dance god/ghost T.O.P also really cut a rug in the strangest manner possible. GD sprawled out on the stage in front of me, cuddled with a stuffed panda, and then descended into the audience to cause some pandemonium — to our utter delight. The Big Bang members are ceaselessly charming and brimming with talent. There is a reason hundreds of us huddled under our umbrellas all day for the chance to see them live.

As the show wound to a close, we were all sad to see the end approaching. In addition to concluding the MADE World Tour, these shows also marked the 10th anniversary of the band’s debut in 2006. Before leaving the stage, Big Bang announced plans to hold a 10th anniversary festival this summer, earning shrieks of joy from fans who have been worried about the band’s future as the time for the members to enlist for their mandatory military service draws closer.

Finally, the band showed off their ten years of experience and expertise with an encore of “Bang Bang Bang” as well as the seminal 2012 hit “Fantastic Baby.” As always, Big Bang is a sight to behold. I fully intend to be there for the day-long anniversary festival this summer, and wherever the road takes them after that. After all, Big Bang is my everything.

Live: Epik High and JYP (separately, of course)

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Epik High appears onstage at Olympic Hall in Seoul on Dec. 12. SCREAMfmLondon

My favorite hip-hop trio Epik High played two high-profile shows at Olympic Hall in Seoul on Dec. 11 and 12 as the final stops of the “Legends 3” concert series. The concert teasers featured Epik High’s Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz hilariously parodying old-school k-pop groups, as well as the heads of SM, YG and JYP Entertainment. And they kept the joke going throughout the concert — Tukutz even bravely came out onstage wearing JYP’s infamous plastic pants. It was one hell of an entertaining show.

The two concerts featured a wide array of guest artists. On the night I attended, performers included JYJ’s Junsu, Nell’s Kim Jong-wan, and Younha, among others. Junsu performed three songs: “OeO,” “Flower,” and a really boring one from the musical “Dracula” that he stars in. The band members’ families were also in attendance, including Tablo’s daughter Haru who appears alongside him on the reality show “The Return of Superman” and has become a celebrity in her own right. At one point, Tablo suddenly appeared beside me in the crowd, rapping his lines as he made his way over to Haru to have her scream into the microphone for him. But the best moments were, obviously, Epik High’s excellent live performances of songs like “Don’t Hate Me,” “New Beautiful,” “Born Hater” and “Burj Khalifa.” My high is epik. So good.

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The first stop on JYP’s Naughty Party “STRIP” was Incheon’s Samsan World Gymnasium on Dec. 5. SCREAMfmLondon

JYP’s Naughty Party “STRIP” show certainly lived up to its name. I don’t know what I was expecting. I definitely was not expecting it to be 44-year-old Park Jin-young himself who was stripping, but hey. I had never before seen anyone take off all their clothes in the middle of a passionate piano solo — only you, JYP.

The concert featured songs spanning the musician/producer/CEO/lecher’s 23-year-long music career, including his most recent hits, “Who’s Your Mama?” and “I’m So Sexy,” as well as a cover of Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” JYP danced impressively and was reasonably entertaining. In between songs, he presented several scenes inspired by “Fifty Shades of Grey,” including one in which he simulates sex with a woman in an elevator and another in which he’s handcuffed inside a metal cell with a dominatrix. At one point, he called a couple from the audience to join him onstage, tied them to two separate beds and grinded all up on the woman while her boyfriend was seduced by backup dancers. I was pretty scandalized, and I don’t think I’ll ever get that image of topless JYP out of my mind. Thanks a lot.

Live: 2015 Dream Concert at Seoul World Cup Stadium

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The Seoul World Cup Stadium aglow with the passion of k-pop fans. SCREAMfmLondon

On May 23, I attended the 21st annual Dream Concert. The concert is a k-pop smorgasbord: emceed by Leeteuk from Super Junior and featuring performances from more than 30 k-pop groups from rookies to chart-dominating stars.

Yeah, I know. More than 30 bands. I feel like everyone who’s ever had a song in their heart was invited to perform at this event. So, strap yourselves in for this intensive band-by-band recap of the 2015 Dream Concert:

24K

24K performed “Hey You,” and the moves for the chorus of this song were some of my favorites from the whole event. That’s a pretty suave dance and a catchy beat. But I want to know why two of the band members were wearing facemasks during the red carpet procession and through the entire performance. Is this their concept? Who cares about a boyband that doesn’t have faces? Don’t they know that the faces are like 70 percent of the appeal of a boyband?

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4Minute and EXO stand together awkwardly at the end of the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

4Minute

4Minute was one of the groups I was most looking forward to at the Dream Concert. Their performance of this year’s hit “Crazy” was excellent, but the second number (“What’s Your Name?”) was kind of uninspired. HyunA, I still love you, though, girl.

9Muses

I found “Drama” to be a boring song with some boring costumes. And I know they’ve gone through a lot of lineup changes, but it kind of bothers me that there are only eight members of 9Muses.

B1A4

B1A4 put on a really engaging performance — probably one of the best of the night. I was not feeling their outfits (nice shorts, y’all), but the live show sold me on the song “Solo Day.” Quite adorable and good stage presence.

BTS

BTS (short for Bangtan Boys) performed “I Need U” and “Fun Boys.” BTS is more on the hip-hop end of the spectrum (one of the guys is named Rap Monster), but, like, as hip-hop as you get wearing Bermuda shorts with suspenders. “Fun Boys” is kind of a jam, though.

Berry Good

Berry Good was probably my favorite of the rookie groups. Definitely my favorite outfits of the night with flouncy pink miniskirts, matching pink ties, chunky heels and glittery wrist cuffs. “Because of You” was also a good song: I was into the juxtaposition of the sweet verses against the weird dubstep pre-chorus.

Boys Republic

Boys Republic was one of several groups working the sexy schoolboy angle at the Dream Concert. Unfortunately for them, the sound was pretty screwed up during their set (although the sound mixing was pretty awful throughout). However, they put on an amusing show — by that, I mean that they came out with the kind of drippy “Hello” and then switched it up by ripping off all their clothes during “The Real One.”

BTOB

Man, am I the only one who has a hard time telling the difference between BTS, BTOB and B1A4? Not enough variety in these band names. BTOB performed “Wow” and “Beep Beep,” which were fun songs, but not that memorable.

CLC

CLC performed a remix of the song “Pepe,” but it was not anything to write home about, so I will refrain.

EXID

I was quite looking forward to EXID’s performance — as was everyone else, I think. Both “Ah Yeah” and “Up & Down” are excellent songs with really recognizable trademark dances, and I especially love LE’s unique rapping voice. For their set, EXID covered the stage with about 5 million backup dancers, but they had to perform a watered-down version of “Up & Down” to appease the family-friendly audience, I guess. Still, EXID put on a great show and had the entire venue buzzing.

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EXO at the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

EXO

EXO is a fantastic band, and both “Call Me Baby” and “Growl” are phenomenal songs. EXO’s fanbase at the Dream Concert was also kind of awe-inspiring and terrifying. I’m not sure why exactly EXO didn’t close the show, as they clearly should have. The well-orchestrated fanchants during EXO’s set could be heard clearly outside of the venue, across a few streets of traffic. All of the band members looked great (Chanyeol’s styling was particularly cool), but I’m just afraid they’re going to drop dead of exhaustion at any moment.

GOT7

GOT7 came to the Dream Concert straight from some rigorous promoting schedule, and it showed. The sound quality was also pretty wack during their set, which affected the show. Mark still did a lot of sweet acrobatic moves during “Stop Stop It” and “Girls Girls Girls,” but it wasn’t the best performance. It was a bummer because they looked visibly frustrated coming offstage, and they’re usually so affable and charming.

HALO

I don’t remember HALO’s performance of “Grow Up” as much as the impression they made walking the red carpet. Nice shorts, y’all.

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This is a crummy picture of Infinite standing dramatically during the intro to “Back.” SCREAMfmLondon

Infinite

Infinite was such a delight. I was really looking forward to Infinite, and I’m still stoked about it. They looked sharp in sleek black-and-white suits as they performed “Back” and “Paradise.” And what’s more: while some bands look so dead behind the eyes while going through the motions of their dances, Infinite seemed so glad to be there. Literally no one was having more fun than Dongwoo. They couldn’t get him offstage after the show. They had to cut the sound from his microphone, and he still kept jumping around and playing with the fans long after everyone else had left. It was so damn endearing.

Hyoseong

Jun Hyo-seong of Secret performed her solo song “Into You.” She is super attractive, but she appeared creepily robotic during her passionless performance. I was very scandalized, however, when one of her dance moves included having a female backup dancer reach around from behind and give her breasts a firm squeeze. Whoa! And EXID can’t do their “Up & Down” pelvic thrusting?!

Kara

Kara revealed “Cupid,” the first track from the group’s newest mini-album, “In Love,” for the first time at the concert. They also wore some white, fringed vests. I felt ambivalent toward all of it.

LABOUM

LABOUM was another of my favorites from the rookie stages, but I took off points for the sexy baby concept. “Sugar Sugar” is such a cute bubblegum pop song, though. It’s very reminiscent of American girl group sounds from the 1950s — even the adorable, simple dance.

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Lovelyz at the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

Lovelyz

Lovelyz performed “Hi~” in cute mismatched schoolgirl outfits and released a ton of multicolored balloons into the sky during their set. It looked cool, but, damn, that’s a lot of litter.

MFBTY

MFBTY’s performance was a pleasant surprise at the dream concert. The hip-hop group consists of Korean hip-hop greats Drunken Tiger/Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy. Together, they played “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” and “Monster” with guest appearances from many of the other Dream Concert artists — Chanyeol from EXO, Wendy from Red Velvet, LE from EXID, Baro from B1A4, and Rap Monster and Suga from BTS. The songs are good and the collaborations were interesting, but they actually messed up their set and had to start all the way from the beginning again, which killed my buzz, as well as the illusion that this was a live concert.

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Monsta X at the 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

Monsta X

Monsta X was so much fun. The performance of “Trespass” began with a guy popping out of a trap door a few feet from my face and aggressively ripping off his shirt. He was then joined onstage by his bandmates — as well as a slew of backup dancers dressed in cheap police uniforms. Hell yeah, is this the Dream Concert or a bachelorette party? I don’t even remember what the song sounded like, but who cares?

Oh My Girl

OMG performed “Cupid” dressed in cheerleader uniforms. I feel like there are a million bands who have performed a song called “Cupid” dressed in cheerleader uniforms, but at least the chorus of this song is catchy.

Red Velvet

Red Velvet opened the show, for some reason. I was really looking forward to their performance, but I wasn’t ready for it when they began — and then it was over just as quickly. Plus, they released some giant Red Velvet beach balls during this set, so I had to concentrate on not getting bonked instead of watching the show. “Ice Cream Cake” is a jam, though, and Red Velvet should’ve performed a bit later on in the evening.

ROMEO

I had the best seats in the house, I think — especially for backstage insight. One of my favorite behind-the-scenes moments was when Romeo was running onstage to perform: one of the guys tripped over the plastic mats covering the soccer field and totally ate it right in front of me. Also, they performed “Lovesick.” But that guy fell down! Comedy gold.

Secret

In addition to Hyoseong’s solo stage, Secret performed “Magic” and “Madonna.” Neither were very interesting! Moving on.

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SHINee closing the 2015 Dream Concert like pros. SCREAMfmLondon

SHINee

SHINee closed the show like pros. They performed “View” and “Love Sick” from their latest album, “Odd,” which was just released on May 18. “View” is a really catchy, kind of clubby song that is (dare I say it?) probably my favorite SHINee song to date. The band executed their moves flawlessly, and Jonghyun and Key looked super cool. But Taemin… Taemin wore a strange oversized sweater and a pair of oversized pants with the phrase “OPEN HERE” printed boldly down the fly. It was a killer performance, but somebody needs to dispose of that outfit.

SISTAR

A great behind-the-scenes moment came after Sistar’s techno remix of “Touch My Body.” When the backup dancers climbed offstage before the group’s second number, Bora casually left right alongside them while her bandmates were introducing the next song, “I Swear.” Somebody had to grab her by the arm and throw her back onstage to finish the performance. Anyway, I think I enjoyed the re-imagined rendition of “Touch My Body,” but the sound was so blown out, I could barely hear anything. C’mon, Dream Concert.

Sonamoo

When you see 30 bands in one sitting, it can feel like you’re seeing the same thing over and over again… No, wait, I’m sorry, that’s just Sonamoo performing “Deja Vu.” Ha. Ha ha.

SPEED

I thought Speed was cool. The boys looked casual yet powerful, and like they were having a lot of fun. They wore schoolboy uniforms and shoes equipped with skates, so the dance for “What U” could incorporate some effortless gliding as well as their typical acrobatic tricks. Throughout their set, they skated back and forth across the stage in backwards caps. Kind of a “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” aesthetic.

T-ara

T-ara performed “Little Apple,” followed shortly by Eun-jung’s solo performance of “I’m Good.” Eun-jung, the lead vocalist and rapper in T-ara, made her solo debut as Elsie at the beginning of the month. Her solo stage was an unusual change of pace — more lyrical and easy-listening than the pop and hip-hop that dominated the Dream Concert.

Topp Dogg

What I really enjoyed about Topp Dogg was that the band name was misspelled as “ToppGogg” on the official Dream Concert poster. There are also like 500 people in this band. They performed “Top Dog” with some impressive pyrotechnic effects that coincided with the song’s chorus (“T. O. Double P. / D. O. Double G. / Topp Dogg!”). Their set was highly entertaining.

VIXX

VIXX is such an embarrassing breed of ultra-adorable that it’s kind of likeable. Their style is almost too cutesy for me, but I found their Dream Concert performance to be one of the best. They performed “Love Equation” and “Error,” and I was officially sold on the goofy move where they spell out their band name with their arms. Also, Leo’s voice is beautiful, and I enjoy how vaguely uncomfortable he always looks because I’m hoping he feels as conflicted as I do about that VIXX choreography.

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The 2015 Dream Concert. SCREAMfmLondon

Live: Big Bang at Olympic Gymnastics Arena

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Fans arrive at Seoul’s Olympic Gymnastics Arena to see Big Bang’s first concert of the 2015 MADE World Tour on April 25. SCREAMfmLondon

Approaching Olympic Park in Seoul this weekend was like arriving in Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road. The expansive sidewalks were lined with banners billowing in the wind — each one depicting a member of the five-piece K-pop group Big Bang sporting a ridiculous hairstyle. Above them floated giant, luminescent balloons displaying phrases like “빅뱅 IS BACK.” It was magical.

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Big Bang’s official light sticks are so cool until you’re trying to see around them in the crowd. SCREAMfmLondon

The moment had finally arrived for Big Bang’s much-anticipated comeback after about three years of the members focusing on solo work and not releasing any new group material. The momentous occasion was marked with two consecutive concerts at Seoul’s Olympic Gymnastics Arena on April 25 and 26 — and I attended them both.

The MADE 2015 World Tour dates in Seoul served to usher in a new era for the band. Here’s the plan: Big Bang will release an EP on the first day of each month from May to September of this year (“M,” “A,” “D” and “E”). Each EP will feature two new singles — until September, when the full-length studio album “Made” will finally be released. It’s kind of complicated. I love it.

The first two songs — due to be released May 1 — were introduced at this weekend’s concerts. And they are both killer tracks.

The group presented “Loser” first by screening the official music video, which was filmed just a few weeks ago in downtown Los Angeles. One scene shows G-Dragon sprawling out despondently across Spring Street as the ol’ Metro Rapid lumbers past. Truly a merging of my favorite worlds.

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T.O.P rocking that hairstyle like only he can. SCREAMfmLondon

The video is exactly the kind of music video I love — a classic strung-out, rock ‘n roll aesthetic to match the song’s maudlin theme. Taeyang spray paints messages about sin at a trailer park, Seungri smashes some furniture, Daesung gets his ass kicked out front of a convenience store, T.O.P wears his pajamas outside. It’s perfect, and it perfectly matches the song’s gorgeous lyrics. In the first verse, G-Dragon admits, “Honestly, I’ve never fit in… / Love was already forgotten to me, who was alone. / I’ve had enough of hopeful love songs.”

After screening the video, the band reappeared onstage in a revolving platform of windows and mirrors to perform the song live for the first time. In fact, they performed each of the new songs about three or four times each (if you count some of the a capella bits) both nights, which sounds like it would be annoying but was actually wonderful and super effective in harnessing the excitement for the first EP release. Now I don’t want to listen to anything else. ‘Cause I’m just a loser, loner, a coward who pretends to be strong~

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Seungri in the foreground with T.O.P on the big screen. SCREAMfmLondon

During the live performance, Seungri really sold “Loser,” carrying the chorus and adding emotional flourishes to his act. Seungri’s overall performances really stood out at both of the Seoul concerts. In between “How Gee” and “Feeling,” he appeared onstage with a set of turntables to try his hand at DJing, which was a cool way to introduce yet another style of music to Big Bang’s already eclectic repertoire. Seungri was terribly affable and charming during all of his spoken interludes too, but the real highlight was the unexpectedly sexy dance he delivered during “Strong Baby.” Also, his is the only 2015 Big Bang makeover that doesn’t look kinda stupid.

At the midpoint of the band’s three-hour long concerts, each member took the stage solo to show off their individual strengths.

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G-Dragon, Seungri and Daesung perform in Seoul on April 26. SCREAMfmLondon

T.O.P made an impression with his intense rendition of “Doom Dada” in a Piet Mondrian-print suit. Definitely in the running for best wardrobe change, but slightly edged out by G-Dragon in calf-length fur, combat boots and gold, glittery jackets for his “Good Boy” duet with Taeyang and solo performance of “Crooked.” G-Dragon is an incredible artist, and it’s pretty awe-inspiring to be in his presence while he’s doing his thing. What a joy it is to be in the same universe, the same country, the same room as Kwon Ji-yong.

Following G-Dragon’s solo, the band premiered its second new song, “Bae Bae,” with a lyric video followed again by a live performance. “Bae Bae” is another brilliant track — so different in tone from “Loser” but nonetheless cohesive. It’s a more seductive, R&B-style track with a mellow, guitar-driven chorus. G-Dragon and T.O.P both deliver killer verses (GD’s intonation on each repetition of “bae bae” is so perfect — I don’t know how he does it). My favorite line is GD’s “Is she a person or an angel? / Oh, Jesus, bae bae!”

There was never a low point at either of Big Bang’s two Seoul concerts this weekend. Both shows were exceptional from beginning to end.

For two days, I had the pleasure of spending three uninterrupted hours watching pop music at its absolute best. It’s truly a sight to behold. I feel like I have seen a lot of things, but I have never seen anything like Big Bang. Onstage, they bare it all: the dedication and work ethic, the unique talents of each member, the genuine enjoyment of the craft, the fun-loving energy, the limitless creativity, the catchiest hooks of “Fantastic Baby” and “Stupid Liar,” the powerful range of “Blue” and “Bad Boy,” the outfits, the dancing, the special effects, the thought put into every moment.

You may have seen a lot of things, but you have never seen anything like Big Bang.

Album review: Taylor Swift, ‘1989’

Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

In a schadenfreude kind of way, I like that “1989” represents Taylor Swift’s further descent from hopeless romantic toward bitter cynicism. Thanks for joining us, Taylor.

She’s always been great at capturing a uniquely Millennial kind of loneliness characterized by a desperation for love but an inability to figure out how to really connect with anyone. This is especially evident in “Out of the Woods,” a haunting song about struggling to hold onto a new relationship with the chorus repeatedly chanting, “Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet?”

Another excellent melancholy song about ill-fated love is “I Know Places.” Again, Taylor depicts clinging to a doomed relationship, singing, “See the vultures circling, dark clouds. / Love’s a fragile little thing, it could burn out. / It could burn out. / ‘Cause they got the cages, they got the boxes, / And guns. / They are the hunters, we are the foxes, / And we run.” The dark tone of the song is enhanced with a few edgier vocal embellishments and an overall lower, more somber pitch to the music.

Probably the best straightforward pop song on the album is “All You Had to Do Was Stay.” It features a strong chorus and deals with an all-too-relatable subject matter, which is Taylor’s specialty. The ultra high-pitched punctuation of “stay” throughout the song is an amazing touch.

I do wish that we, as a society, knew less gossip about Taylor’s personal life, because I found it essentially impossible to separate what I “know” about her from the music itself. Maybe I would have liked “Bad Blood” more if I could have heard it as a song about being betrayed by a friend rather than a song about that time Katy Perry snatched all of the dancers from Taylor’s tour to use for her own, but we’ll never know because Taylor’s music can’t really stand on its own anymore. (Although I would venture a guess that the song would still suck either way.)

In addition to “Bad Blood,” there are some real weak points on the album.

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Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records.

The first single, “Shake It Off,” is quite bad, but it still gets stuck in my head all the time. It’s an obnoxiously catchy pop song that sounds like Avril Lavigne circa 2007, which is also coincidentally the last time it was clever to use the phrase “Haters gonna hate.” The worst part is the horrifyingly embarrassing spoken word bit in the middle: “Hey, hey, hey! Just think: while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world, you could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.” Let’s not and say we did.

“Wildest Dreams” is such an overtly obvious attempt at a Lana Del Rey track it’s a little painful. It’s not a bad melody, though. I also enjoyed it when it was “Without You” on Lana’s 2012 album, “Born to Die.”

Overall, I think Taylor is a good storyteller, a strong songwriter and a great businesswoman. She’s phenomenal at marketing herself and interacting with her fans. The deluxe edition of the album includes three “voice memos” that detail Taylor’s writing process for a few choice songs, which is a cool insight and makes me kind of want to hang out and write music with her.

However, I don’t think she has a commanding presence or any star power, which is weird because she’s become a huge star. She doesn’t have much vocal range, and she was wildly disappointing when I saw her perform live a couple of weeks ago on Hollywood Boulevard.

Altogether, I can’t really say that “1989” is any better or worse than any of Taylor Swift’s previous albums. It has about the exact same handful of good songs as ever, alongside the same number of boring ballads and boring dance-pop tracks. The tl;dr of it is that she attempted to go in a different direction but achieved basically the same result.

Taylor Swift
1989
Release Date: Oct. 27
Genre: Pop
Grade: C+

Album review: Epik High, ‘Shoebox’

epik_high

Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

“Shoebox” is Epik High’s eighth studio album since its inception in 2003. The trio, comprised of Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, returned from serving their mandatory years in the military to release “99” (a nod to the 99 percent) in 2012. Which isn’t that great of an album. “Shoebox,” on the other hand, is a real return to form for the killer alternative rap group.

So, let’s talk about “Born Hater.”

“Born Hater” is a masterpiece. (“Dali, Van, Picasso, / I’m Velazquez, Millet, El fuckin’ Greco,” as Tablo puts it.) The song features powerful rappers from three different generations of Korean rap: the well-established Verbal Jint, the second generation Beenzino, and the up-and-coming B.I., Mino and Bobby. Mino, a rapper from the boyband WINNER, has a standout verse about the criticism he’s drawn for being signed to the YG Entertainment label.

The song’s accompanying vertical music video uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a theme, and it’s all brilliant. “Born Hater” is a much-hyped song, but it’s totally worthy of all the praise. It’s a sick, stripped-down rap jam in its rawest form.

Epik High - Shoebox

Epik High’s “Shoebox.” Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

The whole album gives off a vibe reminiscent of the authenticity and awareness of early ‘90s hip-hop with a modern, cutting-edge twist. The songs are substantial, touching on issues such as religion in “Amor Fati,” which opens with Tablo declaring “God doesn’t love me,” and contains the refrain “I believe in myself, / I believe in the sweat on my hands, / I believe in my heart, / I believe in love, / But they call me a non-believer.”

A few simpler, straight-up party jams include “Burj Khalifa” and “Life is Good.” The former features Yankie of TBNY and Gaeko of Dynamic Duo; it has a strong beat and name-drops a lot of drugs. What more do you need in a party anthem? Layered over this, a robotic female voice echoes, “My high is epic.”

As for the slower tracks, “Spoiler” is a gorgeous, broken-hearted ballad, and the cover of Taeyang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips” is a fabulous spin on the original. Tablo really elevates the song: the Epik High version is significantly less drippy than Taeyang’s without losing the emotional impact and is, thereby, much better. The climax of the song comes toward the end, when Taeyang harmonizes with Tablo’s lower-pitched vocals, and it really brings the track together.

Taeyang (of Big Bang fame) is also featured on “Rich” and provides some uncredited background vocals for “Amor Fati.” “Rich” is another great track — a play on Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal “C.R.E.A.M.” In the song’s hook, Taeyang sings, “I wish, I wish, I wish I was rich. / My drive rules everything around me.”

There is so much variation on “Shoebox” and so many different featured artists, but it’s still such a cohesive album that reinforces Epik High’s place in hip-hop. Excellent release.

Epik High
Shoebox
Release Date: Oct. 21
Genre: Hip-hop, Rap
Grade: A-