One of k-pop’s longer-standing acts just released a self-titled album entirely in Japanese. Taemin’s “Taemin” is a deeply fun album that uses heavy EDM influence to make a very danceable album.
For the uninitiated, there are a few things worth explaining. First, it’s common for k-pop bands to release albums in Japanese. K-pop has a strong presence in East Asia and particularly tries to sell to China and Japan. Plenty of modern k-pop bands form with members from several countries who know several languages so they can reach different markets. Some of k-pop’s most international notables have strong English or Mandarin skills.
Second, Taemin is a big figure in k-pop. He’s been around for about a decade and is one of k-pop’s best dancers and visuals (the k-pop community’s deeply commodifying word for the group’s pretty face). He got his start in SHINee, a popular boy band, and has kept going strong. SHINee is popular in Japan and Taemin even more so.
Third, because of the other two points, three of the tracks are Japanese re-releases of big hits from older albums. K-pop has a lot of lazy tricks it uses to pad albums or pump sales, but these re-releases seem appropriate because it’s nice to translate and re-record a song for foreign fans. “Sayonara Hitori” and “Flame of Love” are much lazier, given they’re both flat-out re-releases.
On to the music: As a whole, “Taemin” is a strong album. The songs fit together well and create a cohesive feel, there aren’t many lulls or bland ballads that bog the album the down, and a lot of k-pop bands could learn from Taemin’s smooth bridges and sharp hooks.
Compared to his last album “MOVE,” “Taemin” uses heavier samples, heavier autotuning, more vocal distortions, and faster EDM tempos. I’m a fan of the change because I like my music to have more than a little oomph to it and I feel the changes add a lot of oomph. Because they crowd the tracks with more noise, they do take away from the pure skill and pleasantness in Taemin’s voice and the sensual feeling “MOVE” had.
For me, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. “Taemin” feels like a less romantic but more fun album. That’s important because fun is one of pop and k-pop’s biggest draws. I’m sure that sensuality and attractive people are also huge draws for k-pop, but it makes sense to follow a smooth album with a snappy one.
A lot of that snappiness comes from what sounds like a heavy EDM influence on the album. “Taemin” is overloaded with synthesizers, auto-tune, and big, cheesy EDM beats from the get-go. “Eclipse” opens the album by cramming several very EDM-pop features into one song. It has a bass-drop into the chorus, a big synth line, constant auto-tune, overly clean electronic instrumental samples, and that trap drum rattle that k-pop has now fully assimilated.
All those EDM influences come together pretty well in “Eclipse” and the song doesn’t feel crowded or all over the place. Something similar could be said about lots of the other songs, making the album sound a little same-y at points. However, Taemin does a good job of switching up the sounds and styles he uses.
For example, “Into The Rhythm” has a very similar structure to “Eclipse” but less vocal layering, lower-pitched bass, and a more danceable samba-style rhythm. “MARS” uses the trap rattle and the higher pitched EDM style of “Eclipse” but it doesn’t drop nearly as hard and keeps a more consistent beat. “What’s This Feeling” has a nasty slap bassline out of nowhere.
The real unifying feature behind most tracks on the album is a feet-moving groove. Only “Flame of Love” and “Under My Skin” aren’t that danceable. I found “Flame of Love” and “Under My Skin” a bit lackluster and out of place for that, but they’re better than most ballads k-pop produces and I understand that the k-pop ballad is a terrible genre necessity. It is as if a k-pop act doesn’t have a ballad on their album then the dark deities imprisoned underneath the Korean peninsula become enraged and inch closer to breaking free from their bonds.
“Press Your Number” also feels out of place because it’s clear from the style that it’s from a different album. On the other hand, “Danger” and “Drip Drop” fit “Taemin” pretty well. “Taemin” is otherwise well put together – – especially for pop albums, which often destroy the flow of the album by inserting singles into random places. It starts off fast, fun, and hyped, falls into a slower, vocal-driven middle, then caps off with two epic songs with satisfying compositions that build to clear climaxes. Hell, the final line of the album is literally “goodbye.” It’s pretty well-considered.
I went into this album with few expectations and left impressed. “Taemin” delivers on a lot of what I like to hear from k-pop and avoids some common pitfalls the genre has. It feels like an album but still has strong singles, it has a clear style it sticks to even with re-releases, and damn if it isn’t fun.