Another year down

So, 2014, how were you?

Videos! Gifs! Animation! Websites are getting movement, and it’s not just parallax scrolling anymore. OK, so it’s a bandwidth killer for some of us, but it adds another curious element to a page. Do we have the attention span to take note of video background, or are they a more acceptable form of the autoplaying music? Tumblr is effectively spilling out onto the rest of the internet. The good: it’s different and another layer of interest. The bad: slow internet speeds are actually a problem for the majority of users without “super-fast” broadband (or even broadband in some areas), rendering some sites as painfully slow as 2005 MySpace covered with animated Flash banners urging you to hit the mosquito.
We’re also still big on the Metro squares and flat design (colours seem to be going to the extremes of either very pale or very bold to the point of clashing) only with more elements. Full screen landing pages with big text and a button is quite a big thing, but there’s more to it than that. Hand lettering, flat illustration, “real” photography over obviously staged stock images, images creatively cut out… It’s all natural progression from what started to appear last year. There’s nothing amazingly new here, but it’s evolving.

K-pop (Oh you knew it was coming)

Not bad at all. Not the best year, but some nice packaging and decent music to go with it. I present my award for The Most K-pop Video of 2014: Red Light by f(x). Dancing in a laser-filled box-room set, check. Pretty people wearing slightly odd clothing, check. Strange potentially symbolic imagery that has no meaning, check. A strange, disjointed song that on first listen is bizarre but will grow on you even when you still think it’s not quite your thing, check. You get the picture. I never thought I would like f(x), but after listening to the rest of the album on Spotify (yes, K-pop on Spotify happened this year) I was won over. Track 3, Nabi (Butterfly) sounds essentially like a pop song based on the Jill of the Jungle soundtrack, so consider me a fan. It’s also got quite nice packaging

Packaging-wise, special mentions for TVXQ’s two releases Spellbound and Tense, Super Junior’s Mamacita (another good album, also on Spotify) and Boyfriend’s WITCH. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but these come to mind (and as I’ve said before, I’m a little bit biased towards SMEnt artists).

And me
Turns out 2014 was not wonderful. On a personal level things got pretty bad, particularly round September time (hence the lack of updates). Out of the blue I ended up in hospital. I’ve had one operation, so now I’m looking at a bit of a battle and a long waiting list for the one I really need to ensure I’m well again. I might even need hospital treatment before I get that far. It’s not a particularly stable time. But while it’s disappointing, perhaps there is some kind of opportunity here. Time to learn more, do more (albeit carefully), and just generally be prepared for when I can take control of my life again. Sometimes these things just happen and all you can do is try to make the most of a bad situation.

Happy New Year! Fingers crossed for 2015 🙂

We need a replay (君は僕のeverything)

OK, so it’s a Japanese release. But, y’know. It’s SHINee.

SHINEee – The First (2011)

What’s so great about this?

Style change. It’s a j-pop release, but it still has some of that SHINee scribbley-sketchy-doodle and ripped paper styling that turns up in a lot of their CDs. That said, the style seems a lot cleaner than their earlier k-pop albums. It’s becoming less personal and more commercial. It’s still big on odd fonts and random motifs (in this case it involves a rabbit and a slightly creepy clown) but it’s more vector based than hand drawn, although the vectors aren’t all clean cut computerised lines. It’s very boyband-y, but what did I expect from a k-popsicles-gone-to-Japan boyband? It’s still more interesting than a 40 page photobook purely of their faces (though some fans may disagree there).

Other than that it’s very… plaid. The photoshoot theme is another of those “give those kids some random props and see what they do with them”. Don’t get me wrong, I do quite like this album as an object, but it’s not as successful as some of their others in a similar style (like Romeo) or as nicely done as their second Japanese album Boys Meet U (that CD+DVD randomness with it’s prints, patterns and vectors will be mine one day, oh yes).

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that Helvetica for the lyrics? J-pop loves Helvetica, and not just for functional text. I’ll have to do a post on it one day.

Want to see more?

The album comes in a medium format book (almost A5) with the disc held in with a plastic CD clip (down with the tyranny of the foam circle tab!)

Anything to declare?

To-to-to-todoke to-to-to-to your heart.

This place is a paradise

Infinite – Paradise (2011)

What’s so great about this?

Wait, what is this thing? It’s a cardboard box with a sticker and you open it to find a massive photo book which houses a CD. It’s a bit like k-pop packaging pass-the-parcel. It sticks with cardboard-brown, deep pink and gold hues giving it a classy but back-to-basics fashion shoot feel. Compared to some of the other k-pop albums I’ve bought, this one has quite a quiet design and is pretty basic. That is not a bad thing. I think my favourite thing about Infinite CD packaging is how it’s keeps simple and cohesive but with some detail that makes it stand out, like the foil logos on the EPs or the unusual size cardboard case here. I can think of a few unusual k-pop albums made of different materials, usually vac-form plastic, but the plain old cardboard is something different.
As I’ve mentioned before, I also have a thing about the infinity logo that always changes. Most k-pop groups don’t really do consistent branding, but the symbol allows for endless re-imagining while still being representative.

Want to see more?

Cardboard. Photobook. CD. Buy it new and it comes with a photocard (I’m not bitter that mine, secondhand, did not. Not bitter at all.)

Any more info?

Infinite are a 7 piece boyband whose sound has occasionally veered into 80s inspired territory (Exhibit A: Mini-Infinite’s single “She’s Back”). Their producer is often Sweetune, who’s done a great job of giving them a sound style. They’ve had a lot of EPs, 2 albums, a few sub-units, and goodness knows how many versions of the infinity symbol.

Infinite homepage (Kr)

Lets bring it back to 140 (+K-pop collectability)

Ayo GG! It’s inspiration time again.

Girls’ Generation – I Got A Boy (2013)

What’s so great about this?

It’s such a… a thing. A nice object, something you can keep coming back to and noticing more details of. The graffitti style motifs (one specific to each of the girls), the extra little flowery twists on the woodblock style type, Jessica Jung looking like a doll (omo, how are these girls even slightly real?), the insane mish-mash of styles and colours (and also the abuse of the font Lobster in all caps. All those flourishes together… No thanks). I do like the packaging overall even if some of the details are a little odd or grating (type in caps probably only bothers designers). The sheer brightness of it is k-pop in a nutshell. Try doing this anywhere else and it’d look like an identity crisis (well, it still does but sometimes k-pop works on the concept that a load of different concepts piled together are in fact one concept). My favourite part is the area on the back/inner front cover where all the motifs are used to create a repeating pattern.

Then there’s the collectability. Great for the record label, possibly not so great for fans’ wallets. Unwilling to go for the usual album + individual photocards, we’ve instead been given individual album designs. The nine girls each had their own version, plus one group version. That’s 10 possible covers! Each has their own distinct photobook, colour scheme and motif.

There are some downsides though. 10 covers mean if you want a certain member’s version, you might be out of luck. Mine is the Jessica version. Personally I think it has the best colour scheme out of the 10, although I like the photoshoots of some of the others more. And I really dislike the boy illustration/motif that Jessica got for her cover sticker, but again it’s personal preference.

See what I mean? And I’m not even a cover collecter. Some fans will hunt high and low to collect the version of their bias (favourite member of the group).

The other downside to this packagaing is the CD holder. While the front booklet is protected by the plastic slipcover, the disc is only held n place by a little bit of foam. Mine arrived having fallen off in the post (undamaged, thankfully). Other unboxings show the same having happened to other people, and their discs were brand new and shrinkwrapped! This album isn’t really travel friendly. I’m sure they sit nicely on a shelf though.

Want to see more?

Scroll over the version you’d like to see to be linked to the full unboxing or check out the version from my photos below:

The main box is a large rectangle format (slightly bigger than A5) that has the photobook in a tray at the front held in by a transparent plastic sleeve. The disc is held in an indent in the foam backing of the box, with a transparent disc cover featuring the girl whose version you have.

Bonus stage! : K-pop and Collectability

K-pop likes collectibles. While in the Western market that sort of thing is limited to special editions with small runs that come in a fancy box or have a poster and some extra tracks, k-pop believes everyone should be able to join in the fun. Yes, there are the super-duper-special-deluxe editions of certain things (although that happens more often with J-pop and Japanese releases), the best way of doing this appears to be the humble photocard. You buy your album or EP, open it up and out falls a picture of one of the group members. Haven’t got your bias? Trade it online, or buy another copy and cross your fingers. I wouldn’t count myself as a bias-collecting sort of person, but even I’ve been oddly disappointed or pleased by the card I’ve gotten in a new album. It’s playing on that Pokemon card idea of “gotta catch ’em all”.

There are some more problems for collectors. There can be Version A and Version B cards for ever individual member plus group shots. Sometimes there are limited runs of individual member cards, and everyone else gets the dreaded group card. Also there is the horror that is the “repackage” or re-release with new artwork and a bonus track or two, which never comes with a card. Buying second hand? The card will most likely be missing.

What’s a collector to do?

Running toward the horizon

Eric Nam – CLOUD 9 EP (2013)

What’s so great about this?

It’s all about mood with this EP. It’s a set of love songs, and the packaging wants to get this across but being in pastle shades and presenting our vocalist as just plain adorable. Highly synchronised dancing and smouldering looks? Nope, he’d rather be outside playing in the snow with a dog (and possibly serenading his lady, but that’s saved for the music video). This images says he’s the kind of k-popsicle you could take home to meet your mum. G’awww.
The images are a combination of highly Instagram-filter-styled photos (some in polaroid frames) and flat colour, vectorised pen & ink drawings laid over a textured, paint-spattered background. It’s casual and cute, like a scrapbook of momentoes that makes it feel almost personal. The contrast between the Hangul on the cover being in brush strokes with the English translated title typeset beneath is another of those little ‘personal’ touches.

Want to see more?

The EP is a card book-style case, photo book on one side and CD tray on the other. It has some nice holographic details on the cover and inner photobook cover page.

Any more info?

Eric Nam is a presenter on the arirang show “After School Club”, interviewing k-pop stars and showing off his fluent English skills to translate for international fans. His cover versions of various pop songs made waves on YouTube, and now (April 2014) he has a second solo single out where he keeps up his cute but slightly dorky boy-next-door image while doing some funky dancing. He also has absolutely no problem making fun of himself. Bless.

Eric Nam site

Let’s play

It has not been a good week. My poor computer is recovering from having a Dirty (capital D) disk drive. After many many hours, it lives again. So what now?

K-pop inspiration of course!

2NE1 – Nolza! Live (2011)

What’s so great about this?

Flocking! OK, so if it’s something that’s going to be handled a lot then that’s actually a bad idea. And then there’s the dust problem. Come to think of it, it might not be the best tactile idea but in the present it has a decorative/novelty factor that’s hard to ignore. It feels special. The silver type and motifs inspired by a deck of cards adds a sense of it being some kind of fancy casino setting (well, Nolza/Nolja apparantly means “let’s play”). The inside of the booklet stays with the black and red suit of cards theme, as well as the complex back-of-the-card patterns. The photography goes between ultra-saturated colour and black and white, breaking up the pace.

Want to see more?

It’s slightly larger than the average CD, coming bound in a satisfyingly chunky black flocked book. The disc in on the inner cover in a plastic tray, the photo and lyric book attatched to the other side.

Any more info?

2NE1 are and girl group under YG Entertainment. They are the female counterpart to BigBang, and their style stays in the urban inspired pop that both groups and the record label are known for. If you wanted aegyo, you came to the wrong place.

2NE1 YG Family page

Goodbye 2013

This was the year that:

Design went 2D
Flat interfaces, Metro inspired squares and those funny extra long diagonal shadows. Geometric shapes. Simplicity. Thin versions of fonts. Chunky stroke borders around type. GIFs (or is that jifs?). Colour swatches that, when apart, look like the kind of syrup medicine you used to get given when you were little (“Banana”, “Strawberry” or “Cherry” flavour. Mmmm.) but together look… kinda cool. They’re bright, but also toned back, like they’ve been taken from an Instagram filtered photo.

(SM Ent) K-pop really happened
SHINee marking their 5 years since since debut by going from being those kiddies with bowl cuts and singing about a crush on an older girl to doing everything from self-penned R&B to electro, dance and pop with their excessive number of albums/singles/EPs. Girls’ Generation winning at the YouTube Awards. EXO actually having an album. f(x) actually having an album for that matter. Super Junior and Infinite doing world tours that actually included Europe. SMTOWN 2014 in London please.

This happened
And I was there. Glad I got to see some really well done cosplay in person. Plus Borderlands. That sneaky, Sneaky Zebra

I did New Things
Finding inspiration in unusual places. Meeting new people. Personal development stuff like: working with Blender (the 3D program), improving HTML skills, working on web design, illustration and animation. Unfortunately a New Thing was spending too much time for my liking in various hospitaly places. But somewhere along the way picked up how to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet; still working on the what it actually means part), and have reached at least cooking level 2 (Herby butternut squash pizzas ftw)!

It hasn’t all been good, personally or globally… But let’s hope 2014 can be a good year.